By Traci Raley
Links between animal cruelty and human violence have been documented by many researchers. A number of studies have shown positive correlations between bullying, school violence, and animal abuse. A study by Verlinden et al. found that approximately 50% of school shooters engaged in some form of animal abuse. Surveys conducted by Henry and Sanders at the Metropolitan State University of Denver indicated that students who had been both instigators and victims of bullying were also more likely to have engaged in multiple acts of animal cruelty. Other studies, states Flynn, have shown that witnessing animal abuse can be a predictor of bullying, and animal abusers have higher rates of delinquency.
A number of theories have been proposed about why this may be the case, explains Henry and Sanders. First, engaging in animal abuse desensitizes the abuser to violence and allows for an escalation into violence against humans. Next, generalized deviance, or those who engage in violence and animal cruelty, may have a natural tendency to antisocial and delinquent behavior. A third theory is that violence against animals or other children may be used as a defense mechanism. Kids who are victims themselves may in turn feel the need to victimize those who are weaker than they are.
According to the National Link Coalition, recognizing that there is a link between animal abuse and human violence is important because animal abuse can often be a predictor of escalating violent acts. Animal abusers often lose their ability to empathize with others and see the infliction of pain and suffering as a way gain power and control over their victims. Of course not all those who abuse animals become violent toward humans, but it is still important to recognize this as risk factor and that intervention at early stages may help to prevent increasingly violent acts in the future.
Parents, teachers, and other concerned parties should watch for signs of any abuse, either to animals or humans, and report it when they see it. Animal abuse can be reported to the local humane society, ASPCA, or animal control office. Ask kids to talk about any pets they have at home and how those pets are cared for. Everyone should encourage kids to show empathy and compassion to animals and to each other.
More information on the prevention of violence and all of the research studies mentioned here can be found at http://nationallinkcoalition.org/ and http://animaltherapy.net/animal-abuse-human-violence/bibliography/.
Flynn, C. P. (2011). Examining the Links Between Animal Abuse and Human Violence. Crime, Law, and Social Change, 55, 453-468.
Henry, B. C., & Sanders, C. E. (2005). Bullying and Animal Abuse: Is There a Connection?. Society and Animals, 15, 107-126.
National Link Coalition. (2013). Link Summary Booklet. Retrieved from National Link Coalition Website: http://nationallinkcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/LinkSummaryBooklet-16pp.pdf
Sanders, C. E., & Henry B. C. (2015). Nonhuman Animal Cruelty, Bullying, and Behavioral Difficulties among Women. Society and Animals, 23, 68-80.
Verlinden, S., Hersen, M., & Thomas, J. (2000). Risk Factors in School Shootings. Clinical Psychology Review, 20, 3-56.