Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence

Instructor: Brenda Steadham

Brenda has worked with K-12 students in life science, chemistry, and language arts. She holds a master's degree in Biological Sciences.

Domestic violence affects millions of people worldwide. While violence against humans is appalling, often there is a silent, unknown victim. In this lesson, you will learn how domestic violence and animal abuse are closely linked.

Nearly 10 million incidents of domestic violence occur annually in the US. While this statistic is heart-wrenching, there are commonly overlooked, silent victims - animals. Criminal abuse and neglect of domestic animals, such as household pets and livestock, is oftentimes seen as separate and wholly unrelated to domestic violence. However, research has shown that in the majority of cases, violence against humans and violence against animals is closely connected.

Animal abuse, which is defined as intentionally harming and/or neglecting animals, is a criminal offense in the United States. In each of the 50 states, animal abuse carries penalties ranging from monetary fines to imprisonment. During the U.S. process of criminal animal abuse investigations, investigators frequently find a household rife with domestic violence.

This dog is a victim of willful neglect. The owner did not adjust collar size as the animal grew. Note the neck injury.
Animal Abuse

What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence, which includes: physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse, is a crime of control. Perpetrators use intimidation and assault to establish control over another individual. Domestic violence is cyclic in nature, meaning that it follows a predictable pattern.

The cycle typically follows this pattern:

  1. Tension Builds: communication breaks down, intimidation (threats) begin, fearful victims try to calm down the abuser
  2. Abuse: physical, emotional, or sexual abuse occurs
  3. Resolution: abuser makes excuses, blames others, and downplays or denies the abuse
  4. Honeymoon: abuser is forgiven, all parties appear to have forgotten the incident, and things are calm

The honeymoon phase allows a brief respite from the cycle of abuse - it frequently gives the abused a false hope that the cycle of domestic violence is broken.

The cycle of domestic violence follows a predictable pattern.
Domestic Violence


Perpetrators of domestic violence use fear as a control tactic. Victims often fear for themselves, their children, and often their animal's welfare. It is commonplace for an abuser to use threats of violence toward the household pet to manipulate their human victims. For example: 'If you tell anyone, I'll kill the dog.'

In safe shelters, which is temporary housing that provides protection for victims of domestic violence, a commonly asked question is 'Why didn't you leave sooner?' Many former abuse victims say that they believed if they left their homes the abuser would retaliate by injuring the animals they leave behind. Their concerns are not unfounded, more than half of victims reported that they witnessed their abuser intentionally injuring or willfully neglecting the household animals.

Abuse in Children

When a child is seen abusing an animal, it can be quite disturbing. While some mistreatment of animals can be attributed to lack of understanding, it can be the first warning sign that the child, as an adult, will become violent.

Retrospective history has shown that many adults arrested for domestic violence, admitted they routinely injured and/or killed animals during their childhood. Some of the United States' most notorious perpetrators of domestic violence, who were also serial killers, where known to have abused animals during their early years.

Serial killers Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer abused and tortured animals as children.
Animal Abusers

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