Lucy’s Project Conference 2016

November 26, 2016


This was a two day program, the second conference to be held following the inaugural conference in 2015. The aim of Lucy’s Project is to raise awareness of the animal victims of domestic violence and in so doing, to help improve their protection as well as the protection of vulnerable humans in our community. It is widely accepted that pet abuse is a strong predictor of partner abuse. Pet/animal abuse can be significant in that animals are tortured, beaten, starved, mentally tormented and killed. It is the worst kind of animal cruelty especially as it is often done in the presence of children, with some children being forced to participate in acts of cruelty on their own pets.

International Speakers

Frank Ascione, Scholar in Residence University of Denver

Frank is one of the most widely cited academics on the link between domestic violence and animal abuse. He is a psychologist and first started working on this issue in the 1970s with the main initial focus being on why children abused animals. Frank’s presentation provided an overview of the research that has been undertaken on this issue. He has developed the Safe Havens for Pets – Guidelines for Shelters who are caring for pets from women who have experienced domestic violence, which is freely available. He has also coedited two books Cruelty to Animals and Interpersonal Violence: Readings in Research and Application (1998), Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, and Animal Abuse: Linking the Circles of Compassion for Prevention and Intervention (1998).

Key points:

  • A report by Tapia in 1971 showed that children who were cruel to animals, had suffered severe physical discipline, and were exposed to substance abuse and domestic violence

  • One US study showed that only 13% of children who were exposed to animal abuse had clinical mental health problems

  • Another US study showed that where animals and children are in the home, 67% of children were exposed to animal abuse and half of these children were reported to try to protect the animal

  • A study (Volant et al 2008) in Victoria reported that in 52% of DV cases where animals were present, they were harmed or killed, compared to 0% in non-DV households

  • Further publications:

  • "The Abuse of Animals and Domestic Violence" by Ascione, Weber & Wood

  • "Animal Welfare and Domestic Violence" by Ascione, Weber & Wood

  • "Battered Women's Reports of Their Partners' and Their Children's Cruelty to Animals" by Frank R. Ascione, Ph.D

  • "The Human–Animal Connection: Exploring Our Complex Relationships with Animals," by Frank R. Ascione, Ph.D.

  • Andrew Vachss' foreword to Children and Animals: Exploring the Roots of Kindness and Cruelty by Frank R. Ascione, Ph.D.

Allie Phillips, Practising Attorney in Michigan & Maryland

Allie is an active advocate and a legal expert on the link between violence to animals and people. She spoke on two topics:

  • SAF-T program – Sheltering animals and families together

She has developed a fantastic resource which is freely available and provides guidelines to refuges to enable pets to reside on site with their family member who has fled from a violent situation. Over 8 years, the program has been taken up by 98 shelters across the US with more coming on board.

  • TASK – Therapy animals supporting kids

She explained how therapy animals and their volunteer helpers are supporting children from abusive environments by being present during interviews by authorities, medical examinations (esp if sexually assaulted) and in court. Although no formal research has been done, the response has been outstanding with many children being able to talk in the presence of an animal; as soon as they enter the building and are greeted by the dog, those who are comfortable with dogs relax instantly. There are strict guidelines on how the dogs are used and they have helped in achieving many successful prosecutions, including one case where a 3 year old who witnessed his father murdering his mother and was catatonic when police arrived, was able to describe how it all happened as he lay across the therapy dog.

Dr Freda Scott-Park, Chair The Links Group (UK)

Freda is a vet and The Links Group aims to help humans and animals affected by family violence. She is also working with veterinary practitioners to help them recognise animal abuse and possibly human abuse to enable early notification to authorities. In the UK, mandatory reporting of animal abuse by veterinarians is not currently being used as a preferred option to respond, but rather, a voluntary approach is supported by promoting contact numbers for help. Freda urges vets to reach out to clients in a non-judgemental way where suspected abuse may be occurring and to suggest how that person could get help. In the UK, new legislation has been introduced that includes controlling and coercive behaviour as this is often used when threats and actual harm occurs to pets or other animals in a DV situation. An online course has also been developed for health care workers on animal welfare to help them feel more comfortable about reporting suspected animal abuse as well as being aware that if animal abuse is present, there is a very high likelihood of human abuse occurring.

Dr Lydia Tong, veterinary forensic pathologist, Sydney

Lydia promotes the role of veterinarians in recognising non-accidental injuries (i.e. abuse) in companion animals. She has categorised types and location of injuries to help vets diagnose animal abuse. Animal abuse is well recognised as a marker for domestic violence, so vets can assist victims by offering advice as to who they could contact for help. The other aspect is mandatory reporting – however, this is a very difficult issue as it may place the victim in further danger.

Key points:

  • 84% of households with child abuse also had animal abuse and 47% of households with animal abuse also had child abuse

  • 33% of owners of dogs reported a change in behaviour after family violence started

  • In households where victims delayed fleeing, 40% were subject to more abuse, 32% of pets were subject to more abuse and 32% of children were subject to more abuse

  • Interesting Australian survey findings in that 30% of DV perpetrators had a history of hunting with guns compared to 8% of men who were not DV perpetrators

  • Final year student at Trinity College (boys only) in Sydney did his major project on DV and animal abuse which involved a session for older students where several speakers were involved including police woman, DV worker and Lydia; he also conducted a pre- and post survey of students’ knowledge and attitudes; one of the main things he succeeded in doing was raising awareness of the link between animal abuse and DV and he also wanted to improve attitudes of males towards females and safe ways to intervene. He intends to use the project to raise the issue with the NSW Commissioner for Children and Young People. He is an amazing young man. Dr Di Evans was interviewed as part of his project.

  • Melbourne University hosted a one hour seminar on DV and Pet abuse for vet students which was very well received and is likely to be expanded in the future.

    • 80% students thought that it was a legal requirement for vets to report suspect animal abuse

    • After the session, students felt more confident about speaking to clients sensitively about DV

    • Will be published in J Vet Med Education

Associate Professor Nik Taylor, Flinders University, South Australia

Current project called ‘Loving you, Loving me’ which involves women and children at a North Adelaide women’s refuge where pets can be housed onsite which captures what their pet means to them, through art and photography. An art exhibition is planned for early next year and has received a lot of interest from many councils. The aim is to raise awareness in the community about how important pets are to families affected by DV and the urgent need for pet friendly refuges.

Another project being proposed is for cross-reporting but no funding currently. So far, service agencies (police, vets, DV services, health professionals, child protection, animal welfare agencies) have indicated support for cross-reporting and for a national database be set up.

Associate Professor Tania Signal, University of Central Queensland

Conducted online survey of LGBTI respondents and DV which showed that 40% were emotionally abused and animals were abused too. This group is at great risk as tend not to seek help or are denied help.

Also, did a small study on pet insurance which shows that animals who are abused and taken to a vet by the victim are not covered by insurance if the vet suspects it is non-accidental. Most vets are probably not considering or able to recognise non-accidental injuries.

Jenny Jackson, CEO Pets in Peril program, Eastern Domestic Violence Service, Melbourne

The Pets in Peril program has been operating for 10 years and is a referral service for pets needing care from DV cases.

Key outcomes/issues raised to pursue following program review:

  • Improvements to referral pathways needed for both core partners and external partners

  • Appointed a Pet/Animal Safety Specialist Family Violence Advocate who coordinates all placements and liaises between animal welfare agency, vets and DV services.

  • Where victims were killed, there was a high correlation with animal abuse

2017 Conference – to be held in Adelaide under guidance of local organising committee including Flinders Uni, RSPCA SA, Peace, Love & Gratitude, Safe Pets Safe Families

Topics to include:

  • Medical profession – frontline emergency

  • Legal aspects – pet protection orders, mandatory reporting by vets

  • Updates on current programs

  • New programs

  • Research update

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