The mistreatment of companion animals can be an indicator of sexist violence. Thus, when the aggressor threatens or attacks these beings appreciated by the woman, he may be exercising psychological violence against her. And in the worst case scenario, it could also be considered a type of vicarious violence, which is “the most extreme damage that the abuser can exert towards a woman: damaging and / or murdering the children”, according to the definition of the Pact of State against Gender Violence. In this case, the abuser would attempt against the life of the animals to make their partner suffer or have been.
The connection between gender-based violence and violence against domestic animals is not new. But the consideration in Spain throughout history that the only type of damage was physical has caused other forms of violence to remain in the shadows. The few publications on the suffering of pets have not helped this situation either compared to the studies on the benefits they report to households.
María José Bernuz, professor of Philosophy of Law at the University of Zaragoza, is one of the researchers who has developed this relationship. As he says, “when the affective, emotional and dependency bond that unites people and animals is known and understood, the close bond that unites both types of abuse is better understood”.
In the field of sexist violence, animals can be “used as scapegoats, mechanisms to mistreat the partner or children, to subdue them, threaten them, prevent them from leaving and / or ensure their silence regarding their situation as victims” . It is a type of violence that “not only occurs for the duration of the relationship, but can also be used to force women to return home when they have decided to leave the family home and break with the abusive relationship, leaving behind their animals “, develops the lawyer in the article Animal abuse as domestic and gender violence. An analysis of the victims (2015).
Justice has spoken in this direction on repeated occasions. For example, in 2019 the Albacete Provincial Court tried a man who, after beating his girlfriend awake, took a ham knife and after displaying it and telling her that he was going to kill her, “with the intention of intimidating her, he took a kitten owned by she and smashed him on the bathroom floor, causing him instant death, saying: Look, you see what I have done to the cat, I can do this to you ”. Judgment 30/2019, of January 21, which can be check here, concluded that the aggressor was not “lacking in intellect and will” as alleged, although said abilities were “attenuated” by having ingested alcoholic beverages mixed with medications.
In 2013, the Barcelona Provincial Court also prosecuted a man who, “with an obvious intention of breaking the bodily integrity of his wife, gave him a push” after an argument. He also gave a “strong kick” to his dog, with “bad temper, with genius.” This is provided by sentence 1406/2013, of November 12, which confirmed the sentence that had been imposed on him for a crime of mistreatment in the family environment and a lack of animal abuse. The resolution can be check here.
And, as Magistrate Glòria Poyatos explains, the mistreatment of animals appreciated by women also seeks to harm them. It is a form of “incisive” violence that affects “the spirit, the psychological”, and that produces a “deep” pain that takes time to heal, even “more than the physical damage”. The lawyer believes that animals, as “sentient beings”, should have “more protection” because they are “devalued” at the legal level. And “this devaluation when it comes to addressing violence against animals” is also transferred to the treatment of gender violence.
For this reason, Poyatos is in favor of reviewing the detection and action protocols in the field of sexist violence to analyze the relationship with attacks on animals. “Whoever is capable of mistreating an animal is capable of mistreating a human being. This may be an indication that the person could mistreat women, sons or daughters and the elderly ”, he points out.
Research related to animal abuse, more focused on the characteristics of the aggressors than on the victims themselves, indicate that in this type of crime, men predominate as aggressors. The empirical observation is supported by different examinations carried out with criminals. Thus, for example, in the study Animal abuse: offender and characteristics of the crime, from 2018, 90 cases of violence against animals were analyzed involving 97 criminals, where 89% were men and 11% women. The analyzes also indicate that the aggressors are usually in late adolescence and early adulthood (34 years on a scale of 7 to 68 years according to the aforementioned report by Wijk, Hardeman and Endenburg).
Bárbara Zorrilla, an expert psychologist in gender violence, explains that it is possible that children who have witnessed mistreatment of women and animals can reproduce them. “One of the ways to learn is imitation. If they have had a violent referent, they have more possibilities ”because they understand that violence is something acceptable. However, being abused in childhood “is a risk factor, but it is not a determining factor,” he warns.
If children carry out violent acts of this type “we may be facing a warning sign” of the mistreatment they could be suffering. And it is that, “they are not showing empathy towards the suffering of others”, draws attention to Zorrilla. For this reason, it emphasizes the importance of “education in values, empathy and altruism”.
The Dompet study, focused on family violence and animal abuse, has collected research carried out in 71 animal shelters in Spain, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. After asking what percentage of the animals had been abused, 79.3% of these centers recognized a relationship between family violence and animal abuse. “Previous studies reveal that 71% of women who enter shelters reported that their aggressor had injured, mutilated or threatened to harm the animal to psychologically control the victims; 32% reported that their children had injured or killed animals, “he says.
So far this year, 21 women have been killed by their partners or ex-partners and two minors have allegedly been killed as a result of violence against their mothers, according to the statistical portal of the Ministry of Equality. The latest update is from May 18 and does not include Olivia, one of the two girls kidnapped by her father in Tenerife. Since 2003, 1,099 women have been murdered in Spain, joined by 41 minors since 2013. If you suffer abuse, call 016. You are not alone.