Link Between Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse?

Ciara Smyth

On November 26th, 2011, Chicago police officers responded to a call and found little Christopher Valdez dead had been beaten to death in his home, as his family prepared to celebrate his fourth birthday.  The boy was found to have died from multiple blunt force trauma and his death was ruled a child abuse homicide Saturday.  Police were alerted to the house after he was discovered by his aunt and uncle, who had come to investigate after a neighbor told them that Christopher was sporting a black eye when he attended Thanksgiving at their home the previous day.  Police charged the mother’s live-in boyfriend, Cesar Ruiz, with first degree murder, concealment of a homicidal death, and for having a suspended driver’s license.   The mother of the toddler was originally charged with concealment of a homicidal death and with endangering the life of a child.  However, after it was revealed through police questioning that she observed Ruiz beating her son earlier in the week he was murdered, and had joined in by spanking the toddler herself, the charges against the mother were upgraded to include first-degree murder.  Steven Valdez, the boy’s great uncle, previously described Ruiz, as anti-social and violent.  He said that two weeks before the boy’s death, Ruiz beat a dog severely after it relieved itself in his home.

Family members want to know why Christopher was allowed to stay with his mother and Ruiz following her conviction in October for domestic battery after she admitted to punching Christopher in July “because she was angry” and to using make-up to cover his injuries.  She was sentenced to parenting classes, given a conditional discharge, and was not sentenced to jail. Following the incident, but prior to her conviction, the Department of Children and Family Services determined that that there was “no credible evidence” of abuse and allowed the boy to remain in the home. The toddler’s death this month has naturally raised a lot of discussion and commentators to ask questions on DCFS’s oversight in allowing the child to remain at home.

What is disturbing to me however, is the statement by the toddler’s uncle that just two weeks prior to the deadly beating, the alleged killer had just severely beaten a dog for relieving himself in the house? This statement deserves further examination and attention, just as DCFS’s oversight does.  His family wondered how little Christopher could have been allowed by social services to remain with his mother after the domestic battery incident.  The next natural question that should follow is how the family let him stay with her and her live-in boyfriend after they knew he severely beat a dog just two weeks prior to beating the boy to death.  And the fact that no one called the police to report that an animal had just been severely abused is beyond disturbing!  Had that been done, perhaps the creep would be behind bars, which would have made it conceivably more difficult for him to beat the toddler to death.  After all, under Illinois law, severely beating a dog could potentially constitute the felony of Aggravated Cruelty, pursuant to 510 ILCS 70/3.03, or even possibly Animal Torture, pursuant to 510 ILCS 70/3.02, depending on the facts.  Sentences for both felony charges can involve jail time.

In a Utah State University study done in 1997 by Frank R. Ascione, Ph.D, Claudia V. Weber, M.S., and David S. Wood, on the connection between domestic violence and animal mistreatment and cruelty, women in domestic violence shelters were more likely to report that their partners had threatened to hurt their pets (52%) than the sample of women who were not living in domestic abuse shelters (16.7%). The severity of these threats was also higher in the shelter sample. Actual hurting or killing of pets was reported by 54% of the shelter women but only 3.5% of the women sampled who were not living in shelters. In the majority of cases, shelter women reported that multiple incidents of hurting or killing pets had occurred. In the shelter group, nearly one in four women reported that concern for their pets had kept them from coming in to the shelter sooner.  Regardless of group membership, some women indicated that pets had been hit or kicked, or had been shot. The more horrific instances seemed to be restricted to the reports of shelter women who reported the following examples (among many others): pet was drowned, pet was nailed to the woman’s bedroom door, pet was given alcohol and poison, pet’s entire fur coat was shaved during the winter, and pet was thrown out of a moving car. Most of the incidents involved cats or dogs, but in the shelter groups, birds, gerbils, and rabbits were also mentioned as victims of abuse or killing.

The Animals & Society Institute’s website contains several links to recent studies that have been done on the connection between violent criminals and animal abuse. One such study done in 1997 by Northeastern University in conjunction with the SPCA in Massachusetts (MSPCA) revealed that 40% of all animal abusers had committed violent crimes against humans.

Studies also found that a history of animal abuse was found in 25% of male criminals, 30% of convicted child molesters, 36% of domestic violence cases and 46% of homicide cases.

While these studies reveal a lot of numbers and percentages, they also open the door to further examination on whether animal abuser is an indication of abuse against spouses, children, and other humans.  In fact, taking into consideration what is potentially at stake, further exploration should be demanded.  Consider the situation with little Christopher Valdez:  in looking at the brutal bruises that covered his body from head to toe, police were shocked and horrified that a grown man could unleash so much violence on such a small little frame.

In conclusion, little Christopher Valdez died in vain.  But perhaps he did not have to. Had this community stepped up to the plate and protected its most vulnerable members when required to, perhaps he would still be alive.  I hope this brings encourages everyone person who has read or heard about this case in the news, to never take animal abuse lightly.

6 Responses

  1. Thank you for this well-researched and well-written article. I fervently support your concluding exhortation (‘never to take animal abuse lightly) but have a few misgivings.

    Your thesis is that we should take animal abuse more seriously in part because it may foreshadow human abuse. I see 2 problems here. First, on a moral plane, this approach seems to instrumentalize nonhumans by suggesting that animal abuse is urgent not because of the harm done to animals but for its possible knock-on effects on humans. I’m not proposing that the research establishing the correlation be buried to satisfy some test of ideological purity by allowing the case for better animal protection to be made on its own merits. Let the studies be publicized far and wide! But I think it’s a mistake to make the case for animal protection ethically dependent on the extraneous, human-centred ramifications it may have. To turn things inside out: if definitive research proved that the correlation didn’t exist, I wouldn’t judge animal abuse to be any less abhorrent.

    Second, for reasons that this case makes painfully clear, I don’t think pointing to the connection will even work in the real world. The authorities failed to act decisively when the mother first battered the son, even though past human abuse is surely a better predictor of future human abuse than violence done to a dog. The obvious lesson for soemone who cares only about humans is that no incident of human abuse should be treated so cavalierly. The usefulness of the dog as a predictor of human-on-human violence all but fades into insignificance. .

  2. As much as I feel bad for this child, we need to take animal cruelty seriously not just because it is a predictor of abuse against humans by humans but because it is a crime in itself when the cruelty is directed to non-human animals.

  3. This is practically a no-brainer. Of course wanton cruelty to animals is a good indicator of potential violence against other people.

  4. The link or connection has been well documented for more than 25 years:massive evidence from FBI files alone on serial killers confirms this and abuse runs the gamut to include not only children but spousal abuse, elder abuse and abuse against animals of all kinds, including wildlife; while justice cries out to be done in the name of this poor innocent child and stands in its own right , the animal equation is unmistakeable and begs to be addressed in its own right…as the above comments have indicated; I find the work of Catharine MacKinnon and Carol J. Adams particularly instructive in this regard as they also point out that animals need to be recognized for their own inherent worth without always a human referent involved; Adams asks the question why we must prove that animals are like us (or fit into our definition of the HUMAN) before they are deemed worthy of our attention, respect and protection and why must we prove that they suffer like us before harm to them is seen as REAL; and is this not how our laws and legal system been guided in its inadequate and lax laws, enforcement and prosecution when it comes to dealing with animal cruelty…when it bothers to deal with it at all? Our failure to protect our most vulnerable and defenceless among us ,such as Chrisopher, is the same failure which allows our animals to be marginalized and victimized…both human and non-human alike crying out for that very same justice!(

  5. To make the distinction between abuse of one of our co-species and a one of our species is a fallacy, a sophistry, because in essence, the crime is against a helpless being. It doesn’t matter what species the vicitim belongs to, the focus is the nature of the crime – the willful infliction of pain on a helpless being and receiving some sort of gratification from the experience.

  6. “Police charged the toddler’s live-in boyfriend, Cesar Ruiz…”

    I think you meant MOTHER’S live-in boyfriend

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