Animal Abuse and Youth Violence:
By: Jennifer O’Connor
May, 28, 2011
Although legal definitions of animal abuse vary, it is a crime in every State, and many States have enacted laws establishing certain forms of cruelty to animals as felony offenses. The forms of abuse to which animals may be subjected are similar to the forms of abuse children experience, including physical abuse, serious neglect, and even psychological abuse. It has been said that violence begets violence, but what do we know about the nature of the relationship between the abuse of animals and aggressive behavior towards human beings? This paper describes psychiatric, psychological, and criminal research linking animal abuse to violence perpetrated by juveniles and adults. Particular attention is focused on the prevalence of cruelty to animals by children and adolescents and to the role of animal abuse as a possible symptom of conduct disorder. In addition, the motivations and etiology underlying the maltreatment of animals are thoroughly reviewed. The abuse of sentient creatures demands our attention. The research includes recommendations to curb such cruelty, while providing information for additional resources concerned with violence perpetrated against animals and people. It is my hope that the information that this paper offers will contribute to reducing both forms of violence.
The past two decades have witnessed a resurgence of interest in the relation between cruelty to animals, or animal abuse, and serious violent behavior, especially among youthful offenders. As an illustration, a recent study by Verlinden (2000) of 9 school shootings in the United States (from Moses Lake, WA, in 1996 to Conyers, GA, in 1999) reported that 5 (45 percent) of the 11 perpetrators had histories of alleged animal abuse. The well-documented example was the case of Luke Woodham who, in the April before his October 1997 murder of his mother and two schoolmates, tortured and