The chairman of an influential group investigating links between child abuse, domestic violence and animal cruelty today (16 May) called for better reporting of potential cases.
Jonathan Silk, Regional Director of the RSPCA, who was speaking at the Links Group's ‘Violence at Home' conference, told delegates: "There are clearly significant levels of violence in a domestic environment to children, animals and partners across the globe and an increasing body of evidence is pointing to a link between them. But the scale of the cross-over is probably masked by relatively low levels of cross-reporting across the species barrier. We must do better."
The multi-agency Links Group was set up in 2001 to encourage all organisations to work together to aid the prevention and detection of related cases of abuse. Pioneered by animal health company, Intervet UK, working alongside the NSPCC and RSPCA, other members include Refuge, Dogs Trust, Scottish SPCA, Paws for Kids and PDSA. One of the main achievements of the Links Group has been the introduction of a joint RSPCA / NSPCC inspector training programme to encourage greater cross-reporting. Last year social services referred over 600 cases to the RSPCA .
Data collected by domestic violence charities, Refuge and Women's Aid, shows there were almost 400 cases of violence to animals last year with pets being used to coerce, control and intimidate and many women remain in a violent relationship because they cannot leave their pets behind. As a result, a number of pet fostering services have been set up around the country by various charities, including Dogs Trust and the RSPCA1 and demand for their services is high.
Since the Links Group's formation, two thirds of veterinary undergraduates have been trained to identify non-accidental injuries in animals and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Guide to Professional Conduct now contains an annexe on animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence and provides advice on breaching confidentiality under certain circumstances.
Interest in animal abuse as an under-utilised marker for family violence was first investigated in America and Phil Arkow2, one of four international experts on the subject, addressing the Links conference commented: "The formation of The Links Group is part of a growing global movement across the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada, while authorities in Spain, Austria, Italy, Japan and Brazil are also responding to the concept.
"Some key themes have emerged from current research and practice in the area: animal abuse is a human welfare concern, which forms part of a pattern of violence within the family; animal abuse perpetrated by youths is no longer being excused but is being recognised as a serious threat and often a precursor for interpersonal violence; and when animals are abused, people are at risk; when people are abused, animals are at risk.
"Sixteen states in the US have passed legislation to include pets under the aegis of domestic violence protection orders, while the UK, US, New Zealand and, most recently, Canada have implemented a code of ethics for veterinary surgeons who suspect animal abuse. These two key developments indicate more widespread acceptance of animal abuse as being inextricably intertwined with family violence and as much of a human welfare issue as an animal welfare concern."