Reform needed to protect domestic violence victims with pets and livestock

Existing laws are in need of reform to better protect domestic violence victims with pets, assistance animals and livestock from ongoing violence and abuse, a Women’s Safety NSW report reveals.

The Animal Abuse and Domestic and Family Violence report released today was developed in response to a review being conducted by the NSW Government into the issue and is based on survey results from women’s specialist domestic and family violence services.

Between one in five and three in five victims of domestic and family violence report animal abuse after a domestic violence police incident, with lower rates being reported in metropolitan areas compared to regional, rural and remote locations.

Laws exist for the prevention of animal cruelty in NSW, such as the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 but there is no sufficient recognition, coverage or protection for animals with regards to domestic violence in any existing NSW laws on domestic and family violence.

Women’s Safety NSW CEO, Hayley Foster said animal abuse within violent households is often overlooked within the domestic and family violence context.

“Domestic violence and animal abuse go hand-in-hand as they share the experience of their abusers preying on the weak, vulnerable and powerless,” Ms Foster said.

“Abuse of pets, livestock and other companion animals is often used as a coercive and manipulative tactic by domestic violence perpetrators to control their partners.”

The report shows threats to harm animals by those committing domestic violence was reported by 94 percent of specialists as the most common form of abuse.

“This includes threats to harm animals so as to create and maintain fear in the home and to isolate or punish other family members experiencing or watching the abuse,” Ms Foster said.

All of the frontline domestic and family violence specialists surveyed agreed the current laws do not provide appropriate recognition, coverage and protections for animals in domestic and family violence contexts.

“There is a genuine need for updated arrangements for the investigation and enforcement of animal cruelty offences by the NSW Police Force, the RSPCA NSW and the Animal Welfare League to achieve a more supportive and coordinated approach,” Ms Foster said.

“There is also a barrier to accessing services and a lack of domestic and family violence services which are fully equipped to support victims with pets in general.”

Of those surveyed, 87.5 percent believed the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act (NSW) should be amended to more explicitly acknowledge harm to animals as grounds for seeking an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order (ADVO), whilst 94% agreed the mandatory order on ADVOs should also include animals who are connected with the person so that they are automatically protected.

The survey found 92 percent of respondents believed enforcing and investigating agencies, including Police and the RSPCA do not have the appropriate scope of power when dealing with animal abuse to be able to account for domestic and family violence contexts.

Ms Foster said domestic violence victims often had strong bonds with pets and companion animals, which made it difficult for them to escape their perpetrators because they did not want to leave their animals behind. For many women in rural areas, dependence on livestock for their livelihoods was also noted by domestic and family violence specialists as a concern.

“This is why we need to prioritise a reform approach which supports victim-survivors and their pets, companion animals and livestock to remain safely at home, with the abuser removed wherever possible and preferred” says Foster.

All frontline domestic and family violence specialists surveyed agreed that women with pets and/or livestock experiencing domestic violence should be offered the opportunity to be supported to stay safe in their own home whilst just four percent reported that their service effectively caters to animals. All respondents identified a lack of available social housing to accommodate pets at the present point in time.

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