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Nothing Happens in Isolation

by Prof. Eleonora Gullone & Malcolm Plant - Central to the concept of ‘society’ is its inter-connectedness. All elements and facets are interwoven and impact upon each other. Within a society, nothing is exclusive. Increasingly, homogeneity is deemed desirable and inter-connectedness having international impact. It is within this conceptualisation that the 'Making the Link' Study Project was initiated.

‘Making the Link' Study Project was created in collaboration with University of Teesside, UK,  to evidence how positive change could be brought to a society by addressing the results of the unique phenomenon of the extensive numbers of homeless animals and their impact on people and society. This is a phenomenon which exists in various regions of Europe but is endemic in Romania and which uniquely has a government legitimized stray animal ‘eradication’ policy. No study has previously been conducted in such environments, and consequently impact on individual and societal health has not previously been explored.

This blatant disregard for life encourages a harsh and callous attitude toward animals. In many instances the suffering of the animals is disregarded, resulting in obscene cruelty which is often witnessed by children. There is substantial empirical evidence that animal cruelty co-occurs with other antisocial or criminal behaviors, particularly aggressive behaviors. Those who are cruel to animals have been demonstrated to be more likely to engage in domestic violence, murder and bullying [1]. Of particular importance, the witnessing of animal abuse by children has even been implicated as a risk factor for the development of aggressive behaviors towards both humans and animals. Numerous examples are identified where people who have been convicted of inter-human aggression and violence have also been found to engage in animal cruelty. At the extreme end, murderers (e.g., serial killers) have over and over again been demonstrated to have exhibited a history of severe animal abuse. [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] 

Indeed the LINK is currently used extensively by organizations in the USA (e.g., FBI) and increasingly in Australia, to identify animal abuse as being potentially predictive of inter-human abuse. The empirical evidence for the link is so strong that, in her recent book, [8] argues that by enacting adequate animal cruelty laws that properly indicate the seriousness of the animal cruelty crime committed, future violence toward both human and animal victims can be prevented. In the United States, at least 27 states now allow courts to bar animal cruelty perpetrators from owning or coming into contact with companion animals if they have been convicted of a crime. Also, more than 30 US states now have laws that shift the financial burden for the caring of abused or neglected animals to the defendants. Thirty US states also currently authorize the reporting of suspected animal cruelty by veterinarians. Further, reflecting acknowledgement of the link between animal cruelty and human violence, and heeding the call for cross-reporting, Eight U.S. states now have laws that authorize child or espousal abuse investigators and animal control officers to inform each other when they suspect cruelty.

In an Australian study, 61.5% of convicted animal abuse offenders had also committed an assault, 17% had committed sexual abuse, and 8% had arson convictions. Animal abuse was a better predictor of sexual assault than were previous convictions for homicide, arson, or firearms offences. Animal cruelty offenders committed an average of four different types of criminal offences. All sexual homicide offenders reported having been cruel to animals. Sexual assault, domestic violence, and firearms offences featured prominently in cruelty offenders’ criminal histories (Clarke, 2002).

Given the strong links between the witnessing of and engagement in animal abuse and other criminal and aggressive behaviors, it follows that if we cultivate a culture of compassion toward our non-human citizens, current and future generations will benefit through reduced antisocial and violent behavior toward all sentient beings.

Psychometric instruments including those used extensively by clinicians in the USA were presented to 169 children aged between 14-16 years in the City of Bistrita, Romania. A similar presentation was made to a control group of 111 children in Berlin, Germany. Given that exposure to abuse can produce a progressive desensitization process with attendant reduction in empathy [9] - four psychometric measures were introduced. Two seeking to evaluate empathy factors - Basic Empathy Scale (20 items); [10] and Empathy Assessment Index (23 items); [11] Achenbach Youth Self Report (114 items); [12] to explore a range of psychological factors and a modified version of CTSARE (14 items) [13] providing a self-response questionnaire. The YSR was modified to include two additional questions about exposure to abuse and perpetration of abuse.

It was found that in Bistrita, 86,3% of the children had witnessed animal abuse in public. 65% claimed to have been emotionally affected by the experience. Such abuse has been identified as poisoning, hanging and mutilation of homeless animals. 

This provides a direct contrast to western societies where almost 50% of dog owners considered their pets to be ‘members of the family’ [21]. A survey of psychologists who practice as therapists in the USA, indicated that the overwhelming majority (87%) considered animal abuse to be a mental health issue [14].

Children (10%) who admitted to abusing animals also correlated with aggression against people and property. They identified a predilection for committing theft but also displayed reduced empathy and suicidal tendencies. Extrapolation of the study numbers over a societal time-frame of 40 years would suggest around 4,000 individuals in a typical Romanian city with a population of 60,000, exhibiting such aggressive, crime-oriented tendencies.

Animal abuser profile correlations:


  • Contemplating suicide (r=.213 p<0.01)

  • Aggression (e.g. N=168), fighting (r= .202 p<.001), physically attacking people (r= .277, p< 0.01), hot temper (r= .224 p<0.01)

  • Destruction of own and other's property - Own property (r=.214 p<0.01) - Other's property (r= .350 p< 0.001)

  • Mood swings (r= .162 P<0.01)

  • Arson (r= .208 P<0.01 )

  • Theft (r= .269 P<0.01)

  • Thoughts that others would think were strange ( r= .221 P<0.01)

  • Think about sex too much (r= .271 P<0.01)

  • Honesty (r = -.236 P <0.01)

  • Get into many fights (r = .202 P<0.01)

From Levin, J and Arluke in 'The Link Between Animal Abuse and Human Violence', ed Andrew Linzey [15]:

"Inflicting injury, suffering or death on an animal, absent of provocation or hostility, gives an individual tremendous psychological pleasure... the malicious youngster rehearses his sadistic attacks - perhaps on animals, perhaps on other people, perhaps on both - and continues into his adult years to perpetrate the same sorts of sadistic acts on human beings. His attacks on animals are serious and personal.

He chooses 'socially valued or culturally humanized animals - for example dogs and cats - against which to carry out his sadistic aims but he is likely to repeat his abusive behavior on a variety of animals.

If he later finds a socially acceptable means of compensating for his sense of powerlessness, then he might very well escape the grip of violence perpetrated against humans. If not, his early experience with animal cruelty may become a training ground for later committing assaults, rape, and even murder"

Previous research has shown that exposure to condoned and legitimized aggression, invites moral disengagement and acts as a learning facility where self-regulation is reduced and aggression enhanced [16]. Legitimization of the diminishment of the status of a sub-group also enhances this possibility. In Romania, a legitimized victim exists on every street corner creating a potential ‘aggression training facility’. Legitimization and availability provide a unique opportunity for aggression enhancement [17] [18]. If further identification of abuse of the Romanian stray animal as a catalyst for aggression were needed, the concept of ‘displaced aggression’ whereby aggression is enacted against another who played no part in the precipitating event [19], means that the animal victim, devalued by society as undesirable ‘outcasts’, presents a ready and increased focus for an aggression outlet from anger acquired from other sources [20].

With a study group cohort of 570 children aged 15-18, the ‘Making the Link' Study will seek to introduce interventions addressing identified empathy diminishment and enhanced aggression. A Humane Education program will include programs to modify attitudes toward people and animals. Psychometric measurements will be taken after a two year period to evaluate psychological change to the children and resultant impact on society.

Primary concern reflected from the Pilot Study is that if Romania is a sanctioned, legitimized ‘aggression training facility’ and associated connection with crime, such personality profiles will enact their anti-social aberrations throughout a greater European society where previously such attitudes were minimal. In a society where all are interconnected, there would appear to be danger in having a singular ‘blind spot’ of ‘no competence’. Behind that ‘blind spot’ may lie the ‘hands that sow the seeds of violence, aggression and death‘!

I would conclude by using the words quoted by Professor Eleonora Gullone on the connection between animal abuse and inter-human aggression. She writes:’ in this area of ‘the Link’ – as in several others, such as the area of youth mental health – the ‘difference between what we know and what we do, is greater than the difference between what we know and what we don’t know’.

The issue is of a potential magnitude which cannot be ignored. History may yet write the words and ‘no competence‘ may ultimately prove to require re-definition as... ‘incompetent’! 

But then it would be too late!


1. Gullone, E. (2012). Animal cruelty, Antisocial Behaviour and Aggression: More than a link. Palgrave Macmillan Ltd., Hampshire
2. Mullen.P. (1996) Martin Bryant-Psychiatric Report
3. PETA (2003) ‘ Animal Abuse and Human Abuse : Partners in Crime ( ? ID=132
4. Neustatter (1998) ‘Killers natural Instincts: The Sadistic Fantasies That Drive Serial Killers Have Their Roots in Childhood There is a Compelling Link With Cruelty 
     to Animals, The Independent, 13 October 1998 p8
5. Ascione.F. R.(1999) The Abuse of Animals and Human Interpersonal Violence: Making the Connection; in Ascione F.R. and Arkow P. (eds)Child Abuse, Domestic 
    Violence and Animal Abuse:  Linking the Circles of Compassion For Prevention and Intervention (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press p 50
6. Lockwood, R. and Hodge, G. (1986) The tangled web of animal abuse: the links between cruelty to animals and human violence. Humane Society News, 
    Summer:  1-6
7. Wright. J. and Hensley C. (2003)’ From Animal Cruelty to Serial Murder: Applying the Graduation Hypothesis, International Journal of Offender Therapy and 
    Comparative Criminology 47,1, 71-88
8. Gullone, E. (2012). Animal cruelty, Antisocial Behaviour and Aggression: More than a link. Palgrave Macmillan Ltd., Hampshire.
9. Beetz. A. (2009) ‘Empathy as an Indicator of Emotional Development‘  in ‘The Link Between Animal Abuseand Human Violence’ ed Linzey. A. Sussex Academic 
10.  Jolliffe D  and Farrington DP (2006) Development and validation of the Basic Empathy Scale - Journal of Adolescence 29 (2006) 589–611
11. Gerdes.K.E., Leitz .C.A. and Segal E.A. (2011)  Measuring Empathy in the 21st Century: Development of an Empathy Index Rooted in Social Cognitive 
       Neuroscience and Social Justice, Vol. 35, No. 2
12. Achenbach T.M  (1991) Manual For the Child Behaviour Checklist and 191 Profile, (Burlington,VT: University of Vermont)
13. Boat B.W. (1999) ‘Abuse of Children and Abuse of Animals: Using the Links to Inform Child Assessment and Protection’: in Ascione F.R. and Arkow.P. (eds), Child 
       Abuse, Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse: Linking the Circles of Compassion For Prevention and Intervention (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press 
       pp 83-100)
14. Shaefer K.D, Hays K.A and Steiner R.L (2007) ‘Animal Abuse in Therapy: A Survey of Therapist’s Attitudes’, Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 38:530-
15. Levin and Arluke (2009) ‘Reducing the Link’s False Positive Problem‘ in ‘The Link Between Animal Abuseand Human Violence’ ed Linzey. A. Sussex Academic 
16. Bandura A (1999) ‘Selective Activation and Disengagement of Moral Control', Journal of Social Issues 46 27-46 Bandura A ‘Moral Disengagement in the 
       Perpetration of Inhumanities, Personality and Social Psychology Review 3' (1999): 27-46
17. Kellert S.R. and Felthous A.R. (1985) 'Childhood Crueklty Towards Animals Among Criminals and Non-Criminals' Human Relations 38 p 1114
18. Gullone E. (2009) ‘A Lifespan Perspective on Human Aggression’  in ‘The Link Between Animal Abuseand Human Violence’ ed Linzey.  A. Sussex Academic Press
19. Marcus-Newhall A., Pederson W.C., Carlson M. And Miller N, ‘Displaced Aggression is Alive and Well: A Meta-analytic View’ Journal of Personality and Social 
       Psychology 78 p 670-689
20. Anderson C.A. and Huesmann L.R. (2003) ‘Human Aggression: A Social-Cognitive View’, in  M.A. Hogg and J Cooper 9eds), The Sage Handbook of Social 
       Psychology (Thousand Oaks,CA: Sage Publications Inc)

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