Childhood Animal Abuse: Childish Things?

When a case of animal cruelty appears in the media, most people wonder why someone would do something like this, being much more impactful when the author is a minor. Thus, it is normal for a multitude of unknowns to appear on the subject. Why do some children abuse animals? What’s on their mind? Is it a game for them? Are they children’s “stuff”?

Over the past 40 years, many researchers from different parts of the world have attempted to answer these questions, in part because of the increased awareness of pro-animals in our society. In fact, many of them are still unable to answer unequivocally, as there is currently insufficient research to understand the scale of the problem, which could be attributed, among other things, to the fact that the attacks do not occur specifically in a different species. of ours, which we can call speciesism.

What do we mean by cruelty to animals?

But … what exactly can one describe as “animal cruelty”? The most accepted definition in the scientific literature is that of one of the most renowned researchers in this field, Frank R. Ascione: “socially unacceptable behavior which intentionally causes unnecessary suffering, pain or distress and / or death. of an “animal”.

They therefore do not include and although they cause unnecessary suffering to animals, more socially accepted behaviors such as intensive breeding that ends in slaughterhouses, legal hunting, raising animals for their skin, scientific experimentation with animals, shows with animals (bullfights, circus, zoos, etc.). However, the definition of cruelty to animals should also include, according to several authors, acts of ill-treatment where there is intent to cause harm.

Why do some children abuse animals?

After interviewing several teenage abusers, researchers Ascione, Thompson and Black proposed in 1997 different answers to this question depending on the underlying motivations that young people may have when attacking animals domestic or wild.

According to these authors, children / adolescents who mistreat animals mainly do so for these reasons:

  • To satisfy your curiosity / exploration (For example, the animal is damaged or killed during the examination process).
  • Peer pressure (For example, as a ritual initiation process and to be presented to a particular group of young people).
  • To raise the mood (For example, to fight boredom and / or depression).
  • sexual gratification (Known in English as “bestiality”).
  • Forced abuse (For example, the child is forced to abuse the animal by another more powerful person, very common in domestic violence cases, where the child may become the animal’s abuser to prevent further death. painful / slow the same by the powerful person).
  • animal phobia (The minor kills or injures the animal as a preventive attack).
  • post-traumatic play (The minor recreates scenes of strong violent charge as an emotional discharge).
  • Interpersonal violence training with humans (For example, the child practices his techniques with animals before daring to hurt people).
  • Psychological violence vehicle (For example, damaging a parent’s pet to scare).

other explanations

Other authors add some motivations drawn from interviews with inmates in Kansas and Connecticut, who had assaulted animals during their adolescence / youth. All examples are real:

  • To control the animal (intended to eliminate animal behaviors that dislike, for example, kicking a dog’s testicles to stop barking).
  • To take revenge on the animal (for example, take revenge on a cat that scratched on the couch burning alive).
  • To satisfy a prejudice against a particular species or breed (hatred of cats is very common).
  • To express one’s own human aggression through the animal (for example, inflicting harm on the animal to prepare the goose for fights with other animals.
  • For fun and to shock others (for example, tie two cats by the tail and burn to see how they desperately run).
  • Indeterminate sadism (desire to hurt, torture and / or kill an animal without having perceived any kind of provocation and without any feeling of hostility a priori against the animal; it is killed for pleasure, to enjoy the process of death) . These children would be the ones with the worst prognosis.

Are they “kid stuff”?

At the psychological level, animal abuse tells us that there are cognitive dysfunctions (Bad ways of interpreting power and control) and / or environmental for the minor. There are several authors who throughout history have alerted this phenomenon as an indicator of psychological inadequacy (for example, Pinel in 1809 or Margaret Mead in 1964).

In fact, the American Psychiatric Association included cruelty to animals in 1987 as one of the 15 well-known symptoms of childhood behavior disorder. In addition, children who commit acts of cruelty to animals are more likely to have more serious behavior problems than those who show other symptoms.

Animal abuse and other forms of conflict

It is also important to note that cruelty to animals is linked to domestic violence, child sexual abuse, and school bullying or harassment, among others.

Children exposed to domestic violence and / or abused (whether physically, sexually or psychologically) tend to be more violent with animals than children who have not gone through these adverse situations. These children can express the pain of their own victimization process through the abuse of the most vulnerable victims: animals.

In other words: cruelty to animals in childhood can be a warning sign that the home / school environment is violent or abusive towards the childIt is therefore advisable to pay special attention to the child when a situation of animal abuse occurs.

Therefore, these acts should not be seen as a child’s pass game or minimized; behind these episodes of cruelty, they can discover many traumatic situations in which the child has been the victim.

How to prevent animal abuse?

Several studies have shown that educating children to impart positive values ​​to all living things on the planet is a very important part in preventing cruel acts against animals and treatment, facilitating the development of empathy, including towards humans.

These educational programs help to develop a sense of responsibility, concern for others, as well as to collaborate in the development of self-esteem, socialization and cooperation.

The implications of this on a global scale are clear: if animal cruelty were considered as a more meaningful means of assaulting and / or demonstrating antisocial behavior, progress would be made in understanding and preventing it. violence by children and adolescents and adults.

Links of interest:

“Three minors escape from the center of Abegondo and kill 40 rabbits” (La Veu de Galicia)
“A group of miners frightens the inhabitants of Marinaleda after having killed nearly 30 animals” (El Correo de Andalucía)
“PACMA denounces boys who kicked a kitten in Cuenca” (Huffington Post)

Bibliographical references:

  • Arluke, A., Levin, J., Luke, C. and Ascione, F. (1999). The relationship of animal abuse with violence and other forms of anti-social behavior. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14 (9), 963-975. doi: 10.1177 / 088626099014009004
  • Ascione, FR (1993). Children who are cruel to animals: a review of the research and implications for developmental psychopathology. Anthrozoös, 6 (4), 226-247. doi: 10.2752 / 0892793393787002105
  • Ascione, FR, Thompson, TM and Black, T. (1997). Children’s cruelty to animals: assess dimensions and motivate cruelty. Anthrozoös, 10 (4), 170-177. doi: 10.2752 / 0892793977787001076
  • Ascione, FR (2001). Animal Abuse I Juvenile Violence, United States Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Washington: Office of Juvenile Justice and Crime Prevention.
  • Baldry, AC (2005). Animal Abuse Among Direct and Indirect Pre-Adolescent Home and Home Victims Criminal Behavior and Mental Health, 15 (2), 97-110. doi: 10.1002 / cbm.42
  • Duncan, A., Thomas, JC and Miller, C. (2005). Importance of family risk factors in the development of child cruelty in adolescents with behavioral problems. Journal of Family Violence, 20 (4), 235-239. doi: 10.1007 / s10896-005-5987-9
  • Hensley, C. and Tallichet, SE (2005). Motivations for cruelty to animals: assessing demographic and situational influences. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 20 (11), 1429-1443. doi: 10.1177 / 0886260505278714
  • Luke, ES, Staiger, PK, Wong, L. and Mathai, J. (1999). Children who are cruel to animals: a new visit. Australia and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 33, 29-36. doi: 10.1046 / j.1440-1614.1999.00528.x

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