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Information briefing


The question is not, Can they reason?, nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?

Jeremy Bentham……

The “cruelty connection” ……..

“One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it.”
 Margaret Mead

Humans don’t merely treat the weak badly.  They make things weak so that they may treat them badly. If we wanted a one-sentence definition of humans, this one would do: humans are the animals that engineer the possibility of their own evil.”

Mark Rowlands

In 2016, the FBI in the United States began to count acts of cruelty to animals alongside other crimes such as arson, assault, robbery etc in its criminal database.   Cruelty to animals became a discrete dataset.  Many groups had been advocating this for some time; it has become clear that animal abuse is a significant predictor of other crimes, such as domestic assault, child abuse etc.  Cruelty to animals is not just an offense against animals; it is crime against society itself, and a human welfare issue. 


Cruelty to animals can be defined as:


Animal cruelty is behavior performed repetitively and proactively by an individual with the deliberate intention of causing harm (i.e., pain, suffering, distress, and/or death) to an animal with the understanding that the animal is motivated to avoid that harm. Included in this definition are both physical harm and psychological harm. As with the literature on human aggression, animal cruelty at the more extreme end of the aggression dimension (e.g., burning while alive, torture, murder, rape, assault as compared to teasing, hitting, tormenting), should be considered a violent subtype of animal cruelty

Gullone, 2014



A key characteristic of this is that the behaviour occurred deliberately.  Great suffering is knowinglyinflicted.    It is repetitive and proactive behaviour, with the aim of causing pain and death.  It took Cecil the Lion forty hours to die: he was initially wounded by an arrow from a crossbow, then shot two days later, beheaded and skinned.  A fox caught and torn to pieces by hounds will suffer extreme trauma, from exhaustion and multiple dog bites, and by being disembowelled.  These behaviours are calculated andintentional.

Researchers began to recognise a strong correlation between cruelty to animals and to humans in the 1960s.   A key article was by forensic psychiatrist John MacDonald, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 1963, entitled, “The threat to kill”.    Much important research has been undertaken in the USA.  A very significant contribution to this was the “First Strike” campaign by the Humane Society of American; this is still very much alive:

This “cruelty connection” was further validated by the proven cruelty of some very high profile serial killers and school shooters, who were demonstrably very cruel to animals in their childhood.  The following is from PETA:

The research has established that animal cruelty is generally symptomatic of major disturbance and dysfunction within an individual, often expressed in angry aggression, impulsivity, grandiosity, adjustment problems, drug and alcohol abuse, inability to show empathy, obliviousness to others, remorselessness, callousness, and inability to bear any restraint on the individual’s own behaviour.

Much evidence was synthesised and discussed further in The Link between Animal Abuse and Human Violence, by Andrew Linzey, 2009.  This is a collection of essays examining existing research, ethical issues, and has a special and very valuable section on cruelty to wild, rather than companion, animals. 

A significant paradigm in the study of cruelty in general and the cruelty connection is the concept of the “Dark Triad”.  The triad is the personality traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy.  Individuals with these traits are more likely to commit crimes, and cause problems in domestic situations and in organizations.   In 2010, the “Dirty Dozen” rating scale was devised; this is a methodology to measure “Dark Triad” traits”.  The “Dirty Dozen” rating scale is widely used in the work place, in an attempt to predict and deal with bullying, or arrogant and manipulative behaviour

Several professional groups use the cruelty connection in daily work. A social worker visiting a household will take note of whether any companion animal present is well and socialised, or whether it is cowed and afraid.  Vets are trained, when examining injured animals, to assess the potential risk any perpetrator might pose to other people.   Many animal lovers call for more severe sentences for animal abuse; however, some abusive sub-cultures, such as fox hunting, openly flout the law.

Many societies are in a state of flux.  Opinions and research abound on animal liberation, the “animal turn”, speciesism, environmentalism, ecology etc.  Animal sentience is recognised, and it is widely accepted that animals experience feelings and emotions and are aware of them. Much progress has been made, but much more needs to be done to make sure that instances of cruelty are reported, investigated and dealt with in measures that reflect the seriousness of the offence.  The renewal of interest in the British Empire, and in the abolition of slavery may create a more salient climate for those who fight for animal welfare, given the distinct similarities between the exploitation of slaves and of animals.  




Ascione, F. R. (1999). The abuse of animals and human interpersonal violence: Making the connection. In F. Ascione & P. Arkow (Eds.), Child abuse, domestic violence, and animal abuse: Linking the circles of compassion for prevention and intervention (pp. 50–61). West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press.

Chan HC and Wong, RWY   Childhood and adolescent animal cruelty and subsequent interpersonal violence in adulthood: A review of the literature   Aggression and Violent Behavior, 48, 2019, 83-93

Delroy, LP and Williams, Kevin M, 2002, The Dark Triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy   Journal of Research in Personality 36(6) 556-563

Faver, Catherine A.  & Strand, Elizabeth B.  (2003) Domestic Violence and Animal Cruelty, Journal of Social Work Education, 39:2, 237-253, DOI: 10.1080/10437797.2003.10779134

Gullone, E. (2014). An Evaluative Review of Theories Related to Animal Cruelty. Journal of Animal Ethics,4(1), 37-57. doi:10.5406/janimalethics.4.1.0037

Hodges, Cynthia  The Link: Cruelty to Animals and Violence Towards People  Michigan State University Animal Legal and Historical Center


Jegatheesan, B., et al.   Understanding the link between animal cruelty and family violence: the bioecological systems model   (2020) International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17 (9), art. no. 3116

Jonason, P, Webster, GD   2010 The Dirty Dozen: a concise measure of the Dark Triad   Psychological Assessment 22(2) 430-432

Linzey, A The link between animal abuse and human violence, Sussex Academic Press, 2009

Lockwood R and Arkow P    2016 Animal Abuse and Interpersonal Violence: The Cruelty Connection and Its Implications for Veterinary Pathology

Veterinary Pathology 53(5) 910-918

MacDonald, John  1963  The threat to kill    American Journal of Psychiatry 120 (2)  125-30

Muris, P et al, The Malevolent Side of Human Nature: A Meta-Analysis and Critical Review of the Literature on the Dark Triad (Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy)   2017
Perspectives on Psychological Science12(2) 183-204

Parfitt CH &  Alleyne  E(2018) Animal abuse proclivity: behavioral, personality and regulatory factors associated with varying levels of severity, Psychology, Crime & Law, 24:5, 538-557, DOI: 10.1080/1068316X.2017.1332193

Petersen, Louise & Farrington, David P. (2007) Cruelty to Animals and Violence to People, Victims & Offenders, 2:1, 21-43, DOI: 10.1080/15564880600934187

Plass, Stephen A  2010    Exploring Animal Rights as an Imperative for Human Welfare  West Virginia Law Review, Vol. 112, No. 403,

Yahner, Eric   Annotated Bibliography: Cruelty to Animals and Violence to Humans (2014-2015) ……





This is not an exhaustive bibliography on the cruelty connection. Books and articles can usually be obtained from a public library, which can draw on inter-library loans from the British Library.  They may make a small charge for this.