Catching the red flags: How the animal cruelty legacy impacts public safety

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If you think it’s only passionate animal welfare activists who need to concern themselves with animal abuse, you’re sadly mistake. Often, when violent crime occurs on a massive scale, like serial murders or mass shootings, certain patterns of behavior became evident long before the execution of the violent act. One characteristic has consistently emerged upon research into perpetrators of violent crimes: a history of animal abuse.

(Josh Shettler/CU Independent Graphic Illustration)
(Josh Shettler/CU Independent Illustration)

When we talk about animal cruelty, we’re talking about hurting another living thing purely for enjoyment and a sense of control – an experience far different from hunting animals for food, pelts or population control. It’s an instance of violence where the perpetrator stands to gain nothing. There is no greater indicator of a lack of empathy and conscience than senseless violence against a helpless victim, regardless of whether that victim is an animal or a human.

Child and Domestic Abuse

According to the ASPCA, 88 percent of cases of child physical abuse studied involved animal cruelty. Animal abuse becomes part of the vicious cycle of abuse found in these families, but exactly why and how cruelty occurs is still debatable. Initiators of abuse may begin their violence toward animals and graduate to harming human family members or they may target defenseless animals after the assaults on spouses or children have already begun. Abused victims may, in turn, hurt animals, either as a way of venting frustration or because violent behavior has become normalized as part of the abusive family’s dysfunctional routine. Animal cruelty is a major red flag that violence toward humans may also be occurring in a home. If we want to put an end to child and domestic abuse, cracking down on animal abusers can help.

Sexual Assault

A study by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security showed that 48 percent of rapists and 30 percent of child molesters abused animals during childhood and adolescence. To put that in perspective, nearly one-half of these rapists and one-third of these child molesters exhibited signs of violent behavior early on – and if this abuse toward animals had been treated as a serious offense, perhaps the later crimes against humans would never have occurred at all.


If you have a strong enough stomach, the Animal Legal Defense Fund lists, in detail, cruelty committed against animals by Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and other violent criminals. “The deadly violence that has shattered schools in recent years has, in most cases, begun with cruelty to animals,” PETA said.

Yet the punishments for animal abuse are still far more lenient than you might imagine. For example, in Colorado, animal cruelty is classified as a class one misdemeanor, which can (but does not have to) carry a prison sentence of six to 18 months as well as fines between $500 and $5,000. Charges of aggravated cruelty are considered felonies, but overall, animal cruelty punishments still are not harsh enough.

Animal cruelty happens every day. It is a violent, brutal crime that often receives little or no punishment, one that is not only morally revolting, but also presents a concrete danger to all of our families. It’s time to take it seriously.

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post in response to a previous opinion piece and was also published on the authors’ blog.

By Kristin Benzinger and Richard P. Console, Jr

CU Independent

The CU Independent, or CUI for short, is the student news outlet for the University of Colorado at Boulder. We cover news, sports, politics, opinion, arts and entertainment and more. Our mission is to provide news and commentary that's for students and by students — about the things we care about.

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