“He cut the throat of his pet, a white rabbit, in front of herrubbed the animal’s blood on its face, cooked it and tried to get it to eat it to ‘teach it a lesson.'” This is the episode that a woman suffered at the hands of her partner in the municipality of Monstserrat (Valencia). David Dorado, officer of the Municipal police of Alcorcon and criminologist specialized in animal abuse, explains to 20 minutes that these cases are going to occur “more and more” because “aggressors use loved ones to harm or coerce” and “There are fewer and fewer children in the houses and more animals“.
A study by the Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals concluded that 30% of women victims of gender violence It has domestic animals and, of these, 80% say that their abuser threatens to harm their pets or even end their lives. In addition, it also states that 59% of abused women who have a pet delayed leaving their abuser for fear of the consequences.
Abusers take advantage of the strong bond between humans and animals, also known as biophilia, which leads them to have pets to harm the victims. Furthermore, this connection is accentuated when they are people in situations of emotional fragility, such as abused women. For this reason, the Gender Violence Observatory clarified that The effect of animal abuse on the victims is “devastating” and that is closely related to the decrease in the possibilities of them denouncing, leaving and distancing themselves from their aggressors.
Abuse that is difficult to detect
Dorado assures that, when talking about violence within the home, an equally important member of families is often forgotten: pets, which, in these situations, “are just another victim.” “Abusers seek to coerce the victim by using their loved oneswhether they are children, family members or pets. It is not necessary for the case to be as extreme as that of Valenciait can start with threats like ‘if you go out partying, I won’t give him dinner’ or ‘if you leave me, you’ll never see him again’ and go further and further,” explains the police officer.
The criminologist maintains that It is a type of domestic violence that is very difficult to detect. and, therefore, to avoid. As family members are “generally invisible,” it is even difficult for “the victim herself to realize that her pet is being used to mistreat her.” For this reason, he defends that, one of the fundamental pillars to fight against this aspect of vicarious violence, is “dissemination and information.”
However, the officer also assumes that great part of the responsibility lies with the gender violence protocols of the State Security Forces that he, from within, is trying to “little by little modernize.” Currently, in most cases, when “a case of aggression is reported or detected within the home, the agents usually ask about all the members who live in that home, except for the pets,” says Dorado.
“The invisibility on the part of the agents prevents the victim from realizing that the animal may be another victim of that environment. Furthermore, this ignorance, when they are families with children, is even more frequent, because the priority of the victim is to protect minors. Even so, it is not exclusive, Even if there are children in the home, pets can also be abused“, he develops.
A “less risky” form of abuse
Furthermore, Dorado explains that abusers are “smart” and know that inflicting harm on pets “is a less risky way of mistreating than directly attacking the victims because the penalties for animal abuse, although they are becoming increasingly tougher, are still much lower than those of gender violence and they can achieve the same effects. The case of the Valencian town of Monserrat is an example of this.since the aggressor faces 12 years in prison for accumulation of crimes of gender violence compared to 18 months in prison for animal abuse.
On the other hand, the criminologist, who has carried out two investigations on the relationship between animal abuse and other types of violence, including sexist violence, highlights that the victims “create even stronger bonds with their domestic animals” because “They are their unconditional support and love and the only company they have.” “The data we now have supports this connection. Aggressors are perfectly capable of discovering the weak points of their victims to use them against them and get what they want: that they do not go out, that they do not walk away, that they do not tell what they are doing. suffering…”, he continues.
Due to the seriousness of the situation, the Ministry of Social Rights, Consumption and Agenda 2030 in collaboration with the Observatory of Violence Against Animals launched Viopet, a program that temporarily shelters the animals of women victims of sexist violence. During the first year of the initiative alone, more than 300 women victims of sexist violence and their animals were covered. “Raising awareness, guaranteeing solutions and supporting abused women is the key to ending this situation,” concludes the officer.