Washington, DC—Time and time again, we learn that individuals who have committed violent acts against others—whether it be a spouse, a parent, or the 21 schoolchildren and teachers gunned down this year in Uvalde, Texas—also have a history of abusing animals. The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) is grateful to Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA), John Katko (R-NY), Alma Adams (D-NC), Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Dina Titus (D-NV), and David Joyce (R-OH), and Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) for introducing the Animal Violence Exposes Real Threat of (AVERT) Future Violence Act (H.R. 8659 and S. 4743). This legislation accomplishes the following:
- It commissions a definitive study within the US Department of Justice to assess the link between acts of animal cruelty and future acts of violence against others.
- It authorizes an annual grant program to support law enforcement, courts, and other eligible organizations (e.g., those that work directly with or on behalf of pets) in their efforts to prevent and stop animal cruelty and rehabilitate offenders.
“By introducing the AVERT Future Violence Act, these members of Congress have elevated the discussion that has been going on for years about the relationship between cruelty to animals and interpersonal violence, said AWI President Cathy Liss. “It is important not only to identify risk factors and the potential for future violence among animal abusers, but also to make sufficient resources available for intervention and rehabilitation.”
“For far too long, Americans have grappled with an epidemic of gun violence that has taken lives, and shattered families and communities in Michigan and across the country,” Peters said. “We must continue to come together to find commonsense actions we can take to protect our communities and save lives—including understanding behavioral patterns like how a history of animal abuse can lead to future violence.”
Animal abuse occurs in communities across the country. It is a serious crime on its own, but there is also a significant link between acts of cruelty toward animals and violence against humans. In one study, 70% of the convicted animal abusers whose records were reviewed had committed at least one other crime, and almost 40% of that group had committed a violent crime.
That same study found that the animal abusers were five times more likely to commit violent crimes than were non-abusers. This link has been substantiated by study after study and is so strong that in 2016 the FBI began collecting data specifically on animal abuse as part of its National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS).
More recently, both the mass shooters in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, reportedly had histories of animal abuse.
“From Columbine to Parkland to Buffalo to Uvalde, many perpetrators of mass gun violence have a history of animal abuse. Better understanding this pattern of behavior will help us save lives,” Clark said. “This is a crucial step in our work to end America’s epidemic of gun violence and make our schools, streets, and communities safer.”
John Thompson, founder and executive vice president of the Small & Rural Law Enforcement Executives Association, sees the need for more awareness and better training for law enforcement and mental health workers.
“The Animal Violence Exposes Real Threat of Future Violence Act of 2022 is long overdue,” he said. “Unfortunately, we continue to see incident after incident involving a co-occurrence of animal violence and violence against humans. But the perpetrators continue to slip through the cracks because of the lack of knowledge and training. We as a society must open our eyes to this horrible link and ensure our law enforcement officers, judges, prosecutors, and mental health professionals are trained and knowledgeable about the facts.”
While society has made progress recognizing animal cruelty as a serious crime with far-reaching consequences, it still tends to be underreported, underinvestigated, and underprosecuted. Local authorities are often not equipped to deal with animal cruelty cases, there are few diversion programs available for juvenile or adult animal cruelty offenders, and programs to specifically address the mental health needs of such offenders are extremely limited. The AVERT Future Violence Act will help communities establish these essential programs.
The Animal Welfare Institute is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.