MP Anna Turley is calling for changes in attitude towards animal cruelty and will today (Tuesday 8 November) highlight research in Parliament uncovered by a team at Teesside University which has discovered links between animal abuse and domestic violence.
The Redcar MP plans to highlight the research in a debate in favour of her Private Members Bill which seeks to toughen sentencing on animal cruelty perpetrators in order to quell the progression to violence against fellow humans.
The study, which is the first of its kind in Europe, is titled ‘It’s a Dog’s Life’ and was led by Malcolm Plant, founder of the Making the Link study project and an Associate Researcher at Teesside University, along with Professor Paul van Schaik, Professor of Psychology at Teesside University.
Research into animal abuse has often centred on Western cultures where such behaviour is socially unacceptable. This study looks at Eastern European communities, particularly those where animal abuse is endemic and socially acceptable.
A number of communities examined had a large population of stray and neglected animals regularly facing violent attacks. This has created a vicious cycle of “endorsed aggression” in which witnesses of this unchallenged abuse adopt it as the norm.
Professor van Schaik said: “An important factor in animal abuse is empathy. We found that adolescents who possessed less empathy were more likely to abuse animals.”
Malcolm Plant said: “We discovered young people in Eastern Europe who had experienced domestic violence enacted aggression towards animals and went on to commit violence against individuals and society.”
“Management of stray street animals in some Eastern European communities had diminished their social status and encouraged and exacerbated aggression against them, with children witnessing this unaddressed violence accepting it as normative behaviour, creating a cycle of abuse.”
The research found violence breeds violence, with individuals who have been exposed to domestic abuse having also committed cruelty against animals. In rural areas where violence against animals is seen as more socially acceptable, adolescent males were more likely to abuse animals and had higher exposure to domestic violence.
These adolescent males either showed displaced aggression against the stray animals or progressed to commit violence against family members.
The Teesside University study acknowledges that while links between domestic violence as the catalyst to animal abuse are more challenging to address, cultural change is needed in societies which are accepting of animal abuse.