Domestic violence victims often stay because of threats to animals

Pamela Cowan, Regina Leader-PostPAMELA COWAN, REGINA LEADER-POST 
More from Pamela Cowan, Regina Leader-Post
Published on: September 21, 2017 | Last Updated: September 21, 2017 5:05 PM CST
Randall Lockwood, senior vice-president for Forensic Sciences and Anti-Cruelty Projects of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), spoke about the link between human and animal violence at a conference being held in Regina by the Saskatchewan SPCA. TROY FLEECE / REGINA LEADER-POST

Threats of violence toward pets — or even farm animals — are keeping an alarming number of women from leaving abusive relationships.

“I’ve seen cases of where a calf has been killed to demonstrate what the abuser is capable of and sends the message that, ‘You step out of line, you could be next,’ ” said Randall Lockwood, an internationally recognized expert on the connection between animal cruelty and human violence.
“It might be pet or a farm animal. These are obviously animals that you not only have an emotional attachment to, but sometimes are financially dependent upon.” 
Based in the Washington, D.C. area, he’s the senior vice-president for Forensic Sciences and Anti-Cruelty Projects with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Lockwood was in Regina to speak at The Link conference, which is being held Thursday and Friday by the Saskatchewan SPCA.  
Based on data gathered from women who have left abusive relationships and sought protection at shelters, it’s very common for abusers to use animals to control them, Lockwood said.
“Among pet-owning women, the percentage that are reporting animals have been threatened, injured or killed can be in excess of 70 per cent and up to half of the women going into shelters actually report that an animal has been harmed or killed,” Lockwood said.
For close to 40 years, he has studied the inter-relationship between human and animal violence. He has degrees in psychology and biology and a doctorate in psychology. 
The 69-year-old has testified in more than 50 trials involving cruelty to animals or the treatment of animals in the context of other crimes including child abuse, domestic violence and homicide.
The most common link in different forms of abuse is the offender’s need for power and control, he said. 
“Often perpetrators of domestic violence are individuals who feel a real or perceived injustice has been done to them, that they haven’t been listened to, taken seriously or they don’t have the kind of influence on the world or their family that they feel they should,” he said. “Getting a sense of control then often means victimizing those who are weaker than you … that might be spouses, the elderly, children, animals or it might be all of them.” 
A lack of empathy toward others, taking pleasure in the suffering of others or “callous disregard” are characteristics of abusers — animal or human, Lockwood said.
Throughout his career, Lockwood has witnessed many instances of animal cruelty. 
“It’s conferences like this that do give me strength — seeing the number of people here who care about this and are seeking solutions,” he said. 
One of the themes of the conference is building coalitions between a wide variety of stakeholders including animal and child protection groups, law enforcement, prosecutors, social workers and vets.
 “These are problems that can’t be solved by one agency alone,” Lockwood said. 
“There are only a handful of programs right now to really address perpetrators of violence — particularly violence against animals,” Lockwood said. 
Domestic violence interventions tend to have a 30-40 per cent success rate, he said. 
“The problem of recidivism can be quite high, which is one of the reasons why we need to be vigilant and see these cases responded to,” he said. “But for the truly callous, unemotional, almost psychopathic individuals, sometimes this is where longer-term incarceration is the only way to protect society.”
More work is underway to intervene with young offenders. 
“Clearly the opportunity for rehabilitation and prevention is strongest, I think, if you intervene at the earliest possible stage,” Lockwood said. “What we’ve seen is that children exposed to animal cruelty in the context of interpersonal violence are more likely to show future offences, both against animals and people. But recognizing the damage that is done when they’re exposed to this type of violence and then trying to intervene and teach them non-violent ways of dealing with conflict, of achieving power and control — that’s where the hope comes in.”