In a combined study in 2014, with Domestic Violence NSW and University of Sydney’s Faculty of Veterinary Study, it was found that approximately 70 per cent of women escaping violent homes also reported pet abuse.
White Ribbon Australia Director of Community and Programs, Della Donovan says abuse of family pets is often seen when women and family members experience abuse and assault at the hands of a man they know. There is quite often a strong link between family violence and violence against family pets.
“We often hear about women who have been abused by their partners also say their pets get abused too. Sometimes, the abuse starts with pets and this is an intimidation tactic for women in the relationship,” Donovan explains.
It’s often a part of the domestic violence conversation which is missed; what happens to the pets of women who suddenly have to flee to crisis accommodation due to a violent partner? It’s an important question which has implications for the lives of both animals and people alike.
“On average it takes women up to seven attempts to leave an abusive situation before it becomes successful and permanent. When you have pets in the mix, it is even trickier as not many women’s refuges take pets.
The contemplation of where to go with a pet can often delay a woman leaving abusive relationships, putting them at risk further,” Donovan added.
It’s an issue that RSPCA NSW are looking to tackle with an expanded Community Domestic Violence program currently being rolled out incrementally across the state. “You can count on one hand the women’s shelters in the state that are pet inclusive,” says Sandra Ma, Senior Manager of Community Programs. “Over the past year, we have developed a framework to work closer with women’s refuges providing their staff with animal care training, creating specialised handbooks which they can refer to later, and putting them in touch with other animal resources in the area that can provide support.”
While the organisation has operated a dedicated shelter for the pets of domestic violence victims since 2005, the new program recognises that pets provide an essential support network for women fleeing domestic violence. “Some people have declined our service as they want to stay with their pet physically,” says Ma. “If you talk to the front-line staff, they will tell you it’s a major problem people won't leave their pets, and so stay in an abusive relationship.”
The solution is creating refuge spaces that can accommodate both people and pets. RSPCA NSW currently has one refuge who have implemented their program, with two others on the list. Ma says it it isn’t a quick process, and they want to get the framework right. “Hopefully in ten years, women’s refuges taking pets is the norm.”
For anyone needing support, call 1800RESPECT.
For sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling, call 1800 737 732.
For urgent support, call Lifeline 13 11 14.
This article appeared in the December 2018 issue of the Australian Veterinary Journal.