Domestic Violence Often Starts With Pet Abuse

As I was writing this morning, I came across an article on that made my blood boil.  The article was reprinted in The Washington Post on January 22, 2010 from an original article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  Its title – “Police Say Georgia Mom Forced Son To Kill Hamster.”  You can link to the article here.

According to the article, thirty-eight year old Lynn Middlebrooks Geter, pictured above, determined that the appropriate punishment for her son’s bad grades was to force him to kill his own pet hamster – with a hammer.  Geter faces one charge of animal cruelty, child cruelty, and battery.

This is a blog about civil rights, and animals certainly have rights under federal and state law in the United States.  However, I decided to post an article of my own about the Geter case because of a different civil rights issue – the right to be free from domestic violence.

In the United States today, many experts (though not all) accept some version of what is known as “The Cycle of Violence” theory.  First introduced in the 1970s by researcher Lenore Walker, the “Cycle of Violence” theory attempts to isolate patterns of abusive behavior in relationships by a cycle of predictable stages.  In Walker’s formulation, those stages are referred to as:  the “Honeymoon” phase, the “Tension-building” phase, and the “Acting Out” phase.

Over the years, “The Cycle of Violence” theory has had additional stages added to it, so that a common graphic illustrating “The Cycle of Violence” theory today looks something like this:

What neither Walker’s formulation nor the one above recognizes, however, is that pet abuse is a common form of domestic violence.  If not coexistent with abuse of a person, pet abuse is often a precursor to more serious forms of abuse.  This is what makes the Geter case so troubling, aside from the obvious animal cruelty.

According to the group (which stands for – An Abuse, Rape and Domestic Violence Aid and Resource Collection), of 50 women’s shelters surveyed, 85% reported that women in their shelter talked about pet abuse, 63% of children talked about pet abuse, and 83% said that they had observed the coexistence of domestic violence and pet abuse.  Further research indicated that 70% to 75% of women reporting domestic violence also reported that their partner had threatened and/or actually hurt or killed one or more of their pets.  The link to above also contains links to the original research, so it is well worth checking out if you are interested in this issue.

The lesson to be learned from this research is clear.  Even if you have not been targeted by an act of violence by a spouse, partner, or someone with whom you have a close or intimate relationship, you should take a threat of violence or act of violence against your pet as very serious.

Cases such as the Geter case – a parent forcing a child to kill their own pet as a punishment – are atypical and, unfortunately, I am aware of no concrete research into statistics of such cases.  What I am certain of, however, is that Geter committed a heinous act of domestic violence upon her child, who is 12 years old, and I would not be surprised if evidence uncovers additional acts of domestic violence in the Geter household.

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