Animal Rights

Animal Abuse and Violence Against Women Are Linked—and We Need to Talk About It

Victims of abuse often find themselves fearing for the safety of their pets.

Photo Credit: Rasulov/Shutterstock

When I was 16, an older boy pinned my arm behind my back, shoved me face-first into a wall, pressed his body against mine and told me to, "Take it back." I'd just made a silly joke at his expense and he wouldn't let me go until I'd apologized profusely.

That was the first time a guy I liked used pain and intimidation to control me, but it certainly wasn't the last. In my early 20s, I fell in love with someone who later became abusive and sexually assaulted me during our relationship. At one point, he even used my cat to facilitate abuse, riling him up and then literally pushing him to attack me.

Sadly, my story is far from unique. As the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey reports, one in three women will experience sexual violence at some point in their lives; one in four women will experience sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner. To make matters worse, victims of abuse often find themselves fearing for the safety of their dogs or cats. A survey of women in domestic violence shelters found that 71 percent had partners who had abused or threatened to abuse companion animals. Abusers know that the bond between a guardian and a companion animal is strong, and they use that knowledge to control, manipulate and isolate their victims.

But the link between animal abuse and violence against women doesn't end with companion animals: Abusing and killing farmed animals often leads to sexual and intimate partner violence. Recent studies show that slaughterhouse work—one of the most dangerous and lowest-paid jobs—can lead to domestic violence, social withdrawal, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, and PTSD. A 2009 study by criminologist Amy Fitzgerald found that, in comparison with other industries, slaughterhouse employment increased total arrest rates, including arrests for violent crimes and rape.

Whether puppies or pigs, the way some men treat animals often reflects how they treat the women in their lives. Indeed, the same could be said of our society as a whole. Our culture feminizes compassion and masculinizes eating meat, and we associate this with our power over animals. We say that because humans are smarter than animals and can easily dominate them, we deserve to use them as we see fit—the same cruel logic abusers use to justify assaulting and mistreating women.

Victim-blaming has long been the norm in cases of domestic and sexual violence, and both our laws and our culture often work in favor of perpetrators and abusers. Spousal rape was legal in the U.S. until 1993, and while technically illegal, continues to be prosecuted differently in some states. According to Rhode Island law, non-consensual sex with someone known to be "mentally incapacitated, mentally disabled, or physically helpless" is not considered rape if the victim is married to the accused. InNorth Carolina, a man may not be charged with rape if he continues intercourse after his partner withdraws consent. In 2016 an Oklahoma court ruled that forced oral sex isn't rape if the victim is unconscious from drinking.

Unsurprisingly, legal loopholes also allow for egregious animal abuse. Currently, U.S. law permits farmed animals to be routinely abused, mutilated, confined in unsanitary and inhumane conditions and slaughtered by the billions. The most significant piece of federal animal welfare legislation, the Animal Welfare Act, doesn't provide any legal protections for the more than 9 billion animals raised and killed for food in the U.S. each year. Like many of our nation's rape laws, the Animal Welfare Act does more to protect abusers than victims.

Teaching children that humans are entitled to dominate and consume animals who are weaker than us fosters a culture of abuse and violence. Until we do away with the idea that anybody can be used or abused for pleasure, we will likely continue to see young men grow into violent partners.   

People can reduce the suffering of farmed animals, while simultaneously decreasing the demand for violence-inducing slaughterhouse work, by leaving animals off their plates. Dietary changes alone won't entirely cure a culture of abuse, but considering the link between animal abuse and violence against women, it's a great place to start.

Don't let big tech control what news you see. Get more stories like this in your inbox, every day.

Elizabeth Enochs is a staff writer at Mercy For Animals