animals and domestic violence
Following is a brief talk given by Vegina at a Take Back that night event…
Violence against women and the sexual assault of women has touched me in many ways. I am, like so many of you, a survivor and, like some of you, a survivor more than once. I, like many of you, also have friends who are survivors. Too many friends have had this experience.
I have also learned about this issue through my career as a sociologist. I have worked professionally to help torture survivors, and met women from all over the world who have been controlled, demeaned, and abused through sexual abuse. I have also conducted a lot of research involving nonhuman animals and through that work I have learned that the abuse of human women and nonhuman animals is intimately tied.
Animals and sexual assault is likely not a topic you have thought much of, but I would like to tell you a little about it today.
The abuse of women, children and nonhuman animals are often intertwined graphically in cases of domestic and sexual abuse. Abusers often kill or threaten to kill animals, most often companion animals, in order to get victims to comply. One tactic often used by abusers to get children to remain silent about sexual abuse is to tell them that their companion animal will be killed if they reveal the abuse. Threatening animals is also used to keep women in situations of domestic violence. The American Humane Association found that 71% of abused women seeking shelter at a safe house said that their partner had threatened, hurt, or killed their companion animals. Another study found that about half of Ontarian women who had left their abusive partner said that concern for the safety of their companion animals delayed their decision to leave. In the past I worked with an organization called Chandler Edwards that helps nonhuman animals who are sexually abused. I learned through this work that it is more common than many think that women and children may be forced by their abusers to preform sexual acts on their companion animals—a topic that many victims and survivors feel too ashamed to talk about and therefore cannot heal from. In cases where men sexually abuse nonhuman animals they almost always also have a history of abusing women and/or children. Please know, if any of these things have happened to you, you are not alone.
One reason I am speaking about this today is because it reminds us that sexual assault is never simple, it is always complicated. Whether a person decides to report it, leave an abusive situation, the way a person reacts during an assault, and the choices someone makes after are all complicated.
We need to acknowledge this and respond in a number of ways. We need services and support that take these complicated situations into account. For example, many shelters support and accommodate women and children, but what about woman-identified people who don’t fit into traditional female gender categories or people who want to bring their nonhuman animals with them? We also need response services that are aware of these issues. If an animal is found abused we need a police force to be trained to look for abused women and children as well. If a woman or child is abused, we need a responsive police force that will also check on the well being of any companion animals in a household. We need hospitals that are not only equipped with nurses who are trained to do a proper rape kits, but also to address other issues that might be of importance like what insurance will cover, initiating welfare checks on family members a women might be responsible for, and more. Response systems that deal with these complexities are imperative if we want women to survive instead of being victims.
The most import thing that understanding the complexities of abuse remind us of is that we need to remember not to judge the choices a person makes when dealing with, reacting to, or overcoming to an assault or an abusive relationship. Sexual assault is not a moment, outside of the lives of it victims. Victims and survivors are caregivers, family members, professionals, students, community members. Our lives are complicated and our lives touch the lives of others. The decisions we make take all of our roles and relationships into account. We need to remember this and remember not to judge others. Most importantly, we need to remember not to judge ourselves. We have made the decisions we have needed to make to survive. We need to let go of any negative judgment of ourselves and be proud. We are resilient, we are worthy of admiration and respect, we are fighters and we survivors.