Domestic Violence with its Links to Animal Abuse is Affecting Our Children
By Michael Dougherty, Jenny McClintock and Alison Brand
Guest Opinion, Boulder County DA’s Office
We encourage and welcome members of the National Law Enforcement Council to submit newsletter writings on issues of great concern related to animal and human welfare.
Domestic violence cases are serious and can be potentially lethal. They are a top priority in the 20th Judicial District. Domestic violence offenders expertly manipulate and control their victims, sometimes using physical violence, but more frequently, through other acts of coercive methods. Often, offenders use threats and consequences of future violence toward their intimate partners — and toward the victim’s children and pets in the home.
Leaving an abusive relationship is extremely difficult. Efforts to flee with children and/or pets are complicated and challenging. Victims frequently feel trapped and unable to leave under those dire circumstances. Victims are reluctant to leave behind beloved pets — who are really part of their family — for a myriad of reasons. Furthermore, abusers harm animals to intimidate and impose psychological control over victims. Sometimes that violence has already occurred — and the knowledge the pet could be in danger and would likely escalate if the victim leaves — is a huge concern for the victim. Female victims of domestic violence reported their abusers using similar tactics against pets that were also used against them, including: threats to kill or harm, kicking, punching, strangling, or the use of guns or other weapons.
Domestic violence with co-occurring animal abuse also has a tremendous effect on children. Children may intervene in the abuse and ultimately become a target of that violence. Over sixty percent of women living in a shelter reported that their children had seen or heard pets hurt or killed in the home. Children exposed to animal abuse in the home are 3.26 times more likely to have moderately compromised patterns of socioemotional functioning and 5.72 times more likely to have severely compromised patterns of adjustment.
When children are exposed to intimate partner violence in the home, they may then present with difficulty developing empathy or display a lack of empathy towards others, including animals. Therefore, when children are exposed to domestic violence in the home, they are more likely to commit future animal abuse. Children may also become desensitized to violence, thereby causing a belief that violence is normal or acceptable.
The mission of DA Dougherty’s District Attorney’s Office is: “To maintain public safety while seeking justice in every case, and to enhance the legacy of the Boulder District Attorney’s Office as a leader in public safety, progressive prosecution, and criminal justice reform.” To uphold this mission, there are action steps we can take to immediately help victims of domestic violence where animals are involved. Survivors must have the ability to leave a relationship and bring pets with them. Safe shelters should accept pets or collaborate with animal shelters to house pets while survivors seek more stable housing, thereby eliminating this daunting obstacle. Protecting pets by including animals on protection orders is another step to consider. Finally, domestic violence laws should reflect this coercive, concerning dynamic and include animal abuse charges associated with acts of intimate partner violence. Imagine the difference this could mean for victims of domestic violence, their children, and their beloved furry family members.
Michael Dougherty is the elected District Attorney of the 20th Judicial District in Boulder, Colorado. DA Michael Dougherty has placed a priority on domestic violence and sexual assault prosecution and crimes against the most vulnerable for much of his career. He passionately supports prosecuting domestic violence cases and pursuing justice for those victims.
Jenny McClintock is Deputy DA specializing in Animal Abuse.
Alison Brand is Deputy DA specializing in Domestic Violence.
… when children are exposed to domestic violence in the home, they are more likely to commit future animal abuse. Children may also become desensitized to violence, thereby causing a belief that violence is normal or acceptable.