Animal Cruelty among Children in Violent Households: Children’s Explanations of their Behavior
- 1.3k Downloads
Despite increased recognition that childhood animal cruelty (CAC) is a risk factor for subsequent interpersonal violence, there is a dearth of research examining motivations for children’s animal cruelty behaviors in the context of violent households. The purpose of this study is to build on prior research in this area using a qualitative child-centered design to explore themes in children’s narratives about harming animals. We were specifically interested in learning: (1) what contextual or situational factors are related to CAC behaviors in the context of adverse family settings? (2) what do children’s accounts of their behaviors reveal about their beliefs about animal minds?, and (3) what are motivations for children’s perpetration of harm against animals? Forty-six children and their maternal caregivers were recruited from community-based domestic violence services. Children were asked to describe times when they had harmed animals; caregivers were interviewed separately about children’s harm to pets, and these data were used to triangulate patterns in the child data. Data were analyzed in Atlas.ti using the qualitative coding process of template analysis. Our thematic findings included: history of witnessing animal cruelty; history of witnessing pet neglect/abandonment; CAC with family members; minimization of animal harm; anthropomorphic beliefs about animal sentience; punishing pets out of anger; and curiosity. Our findings demonstrate that asking about children’s experiences with animals is an important part of the evaluation process for professionals who encounter children exposed to, or at risk for, experiencing family violence. Implications for research and intervention efforts are discussed.
KeywordsAnimal cruelty Aggression Violence Child psychopathology
This research was funded by Grant 5R01-HD-66503-4 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and Grant 2015-0709 from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health or ASPCA. The authors would like to thank the community-based domestic violence advocates for their contribution to this work.
- Anderson, C. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2002). Human aggression. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 27–51. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.53.100901.135231.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Ascione, F. R. (2005). Children and animals: Exploring the roots of kindness. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press.Google Scholar
- Ascione, F. R. (2011). Pet treatment survey. Unpublished rating scale.Google Scholar
- Ascione, F. R., Friedrich, W. N., Heath, J., & Hayashi, K. (2003). Cruelty to animals in normative, sexually abused, and outpatient psychiatric samples of 6-to 12-year-old children: Relations to maltreatment and exposure to domestic violence. Anthrozoös, 16(3), 194–212. https://doi.org/10.2752/089279303786992116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Ascione, F. R., Weber, C. V., Thompson, T. M., Heath, J., Maruyama, M., & Hayashi, K. (2007). Battered pets and domestic violence: Animal abuse reported by women experiencing intimate violence and by nonabused women. Violence Against Women, 13(4), 354–373. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801207299201.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Boyatzis, R. E. (1998). Transforming qualitative information: Thematic analysis and code development. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
- Brooks, J., & King, N. (2012). Qualitative psychology in the real world: The utility of template analysis. Paper presented at the 2012, British Psychological Society Annual Conference, London, England. Retrieved from http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/13656/1/Brooks__King_QMiP_2012_Final.pdf
- Browne, J. A., Hensley, C., & McGuffee, K. M. (2016). Does witnessing animal cruelty and being abused during childhood predict the initial age and recurrence of committing childhood animal cruelty? International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology., 61, 1850–1865. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306624X16644806.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Collins, E., Cody, A., McDonald, S. E., Nicotera, N., Ascione, F. R., & Williams, J. H. (2018). A template analysis of intimate partner violence survivors’ experiences of animal maltreatment: Implications for safety planning and intervention. Violence Against Women, 24(4), 452–476. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801217697266.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Dadds, M. R., Whiting, C., Bunn, P., Fraser, J. A., Charlson, J. H., & Pirola-Merlo, A. (2004). Measurement of cruelty in children: The cruelty to animals inventory. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 32(3), 321–334. https://doi.org/10.1023/B:JACP.0000026145.69556.d9.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- DeViney, E., Dickert, J., & Lockwood, R. (1983). The care of pets within child abusing families. International Journal for the Study of Animal Problems, 4(4), 321–329.Google Scholar
- Glaser, B., & Strauss, A. (1967). Grounded theory: The discovery of grounded theory. Sociology The Journal Of The British Sociological Association, 12, 27–49.Google Scholar
- Haden, S. C., McDonald, S. E., Booth, L.J., Blakelock, H., & Ascione, F.R. (2018). An exploratory study of incarcerated domestic violence perpetrators’ reports of violence against animals. Anthrozoös , 31(3), 337–352. https://doi.org/10.1080/08927936.2018.1455459.
- Hageman, T., Langenderfer-Magruder, L., Greene, T., Williams, J. H., St. Mary, J., McDonald, S. E., & Ascione, F. R. (2018). Intimate partner violence survivors and pets: Exploring service providers’ experiences in addressing client needs. Families in Society. Advance Online Publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/1044389418767836.
- Hartman, C., Hageman, T., Williams, J. H., Mary, J. S., & Ascione, F. R. (2016). Exploring empathy and callous–unemotional traits as predictors of animal abuse perpetrated by children exposed to intimate partner violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260516660971.
- Hawkins, R. D., & Williams, J. M. (2017). Childhood attachment to pets: Associations between pet attachment, attitudes to animals, compassion, and humane behaviour. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(5), 490. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14050490.CrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
- King, N. (1998). Template analysis. In C. M. Cassell & G. Symon (Eds.), Qualitative methods in organizational research: A practical guide (pp. 118–134). London: Sage.Google Scholar
- Leff, S. S., Baker, C. N., Waasdorp, T. E., Vaughn, N. A., Bevans, K. B., Thomas, N. A., et al. (2014). Social cognitions, distress, and leadership self-efficacy: Associations with aggression for high-risk minority youth. Development and Psychopathology, 26(3), 759–772. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954579414000376.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
- McDonald, S. E., Collins, E. A., Nicotera, N., Hageman, T. O., Ascione, F. R., Williams, J. H., & Graham-Bermann, S. A. (2015). Children's experiences of companion animal maltreatment in households characterized by intimate partner violence. Child Abuse & Neglect, 50, 116–127. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2015.10.005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- McDonald, S. E., Graham-Bermann, S., Maternick, A., Ascione, F., & Williams, J. H. (2016). Patterns of adjustment among children exposed to intimate partner violence: A person-centered approach. Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma, 9(2), 137–152. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40653-016-0079.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Plant, M., van Schaik, P., Gullone, E., & Flynn, C. P. (2016). ‘It’s a dog’s life’: Culture, empathy, gender and domestic violence predict animal abuse in adolescents–implications for societal health. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Advance Online Publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/08862605166596.
- Shapiro, K., Randour, M. L., Krinsk, S., & Wolf, J. L. (2013). The assessment and treatment of children who abuse animals: The AniCare child approach (3rd ed.). Cham: Springer International Publishing.Google Scholar
- Stickle, T. R., Kirkpatrick, N. M., & Brush, L. N. (2009). Callous-unemotional traits and social information processing: Multiple risk-factor models for understanding aggressive behavior in antisocial youth. Law and Human Behavior, 33(6), 515–529. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10979-008-9171-7.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar