Many Women Don't Leave Abusive Partners Because of Pets

April 3, 2012

One out of three women in abusive relationships delay leaving their violent partner for the fear that family pets would be hurt or even killed, a new groundbreaking survey from New Zealand has found.

The "Pets as Pawns" survey was conducted by the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RNZSPCA) in partnership with Women's Refuge. It revealed that violence against family pets was often a way for abusive men to keep control over their family members. Birds, cats and dogs were found to be the most commonly abused pets.

The survey consisted of two parts: in the first part 30 Women's Refuge female clients were interviewed. These women had witnessed or were forced to participate in animal abuse as part of domestic violence. The SPCA stakeholders also took part in the interviews. In the second part of the survey more than 200 Women's Refuge clients were surveyed and it was found that for 55 per cent of all these women animal abuse was part of their experience of family violence. They reported that, at some point, either a family member or their spouse/partner had threatened to hurt or kill one of their pets, animals or farm animals. Thirty per cent of the respondents also witnessed actual injury or death of the pet.

As a result, making a decision about when and how to leave a violent partner and relationship that included cruelty and abuse of animals became more complicated. Twenty-eight per cent of victims said that they would have left their abusive partner much earlier if they did not have a pet or animal. The length of time the women had stayed in a relationship ranged from one week and up to 22 years with an average length of 2 years. The survey also revealed information about how kids witnessed cruelty toward their favorite pets. Of the 159 female surveyors with children, 25 per cent reported that their kids had witnessed how a family member had hurt or killed a pet or animal.

According to Robyn Kippenberger, National Chief Executive of the RNZSPCA, these new findings demonstrate that there is a strong connection between animal cruelty and domestic violence. The survey has confirmed an importance and a strong need for Women's Refuge and the SPCA to collaborate closely together in order to protect women and animals who go through a torture of family violence, Kippenberger said.

The survey authors also suggested that the SPCA staff and police officers need to better understand the connection between animal abuse and domestic violence. In the same way, Women's Refuge stuff needs more support when women with pets want to leave their abusive partners. Heather Henare, Women's Refuge chief executive, said that women who are trying to leave a violent relationship may need help finding a place that accepts pets or, at least, some temporary accommodation for their animals.

It is very important, according to Mrs. Henare, that Women's refuge work with other services so there is no reason for women to put off leaving a violent partner. All that is needed is the ability to be able to accommodate animals so women do not have to feel obligated to stay for the sake of these animals. We need the ability to provide alternative place, veterinary expenses and transport to this accommodation, concluded Heather Henare.

The survey, which was conducted in 2011, was funded by Lotteries Community Sector Research Fund.

Tags: Relationships, Abuse and Violence

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