The sexual abuse of animals, and the associated production and distribution of related pornography, is a persistent challenge in humane work and law enforcement. For a quarter century, we’ve been working to raise public awareness and to strengthen the legal foundation for ending this deeply disturbing form of animal abuse, both at the state and federal levels and through our work with law enforcement agencies, among other approaches. This week, we moved a step closer to that goal when Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky signed into law a bill that makes his state the 46th in the nation to pass a law prohibiting bestiality. The Humane Society of the United States made the passage of this measure a priority for 2019, and we’re very pleased with the outcome.
Most people do not need to be persuaded that bestiality (the historical term for animal sexual abuse) is immoral and should be banned on the grounds of animal welfare. But our commitment to the creation of a broader social and legal framework that recognizes and stigmatizes the practice as a violent crime has a deeper purpose. Since its founding nearly 65 years ago, the HSUS has worked to ensure that all acts of cruelty are taken more seriously as crimes, and, where appropriate, they are punished as felony-level offenses. When it comes to this particular form of animal abuse, there’s no real argument for leniency.
But we’ve got a way to go. Right now, just two-thirds of American states punish bestiality as a felony, many relevant state statutes are in need of updates, and a handful of states, including Hawaii, New Mexico, West Virginia and Wyoming, and the District of Columbia, have no laws on the subject at all.
There is a substantial underground network and industry built around the sexual exploitation of animals. But some states have dragged their feet on the issue, with lawmakers simply refusing to talk about it. As difficult as contemplating animal sexual abuse may be, there are several good reasons to stop this behavior in its tracks. Like many acts of individual cruelty perpetrated against animals, animal sexual abuse can be a precursor to violence against human beings. In fact, there is a particularly strong correlation between bestiality and sexual abuse of human victims. A 2008 study of 44,000 adult males evaluated for sexual misconduct found that animal sexual abuse was the largest single risk factor — and the strongest predictor — of increased risk to commit sexual abuse of children.
This is one of the reasons why, in 2017, the FBI began tracking incidents of bestiality along with other animal cruelty crimes within the National Incident Based Reporting Systems.
The law in Kentucky is a very strong one. It defines sexual contact as “any act committed between a person and an animal for the purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, abuse, or financial gain.” It includes penalties of up to five years in prison, the forfeiture of animals, and a prohibition of up to five years on the perpetrator’s living in a household with animals or working or volunteering in any enterprise where he or she might have access to animals. A convicted violator would also be required to attend a treatment program or to obtain counseling, and to make restitution for any expenses incurred by other parties in caring for the animals affected.
We applaud lawmakers in Kentucky for taking on a difficult topic and voting unanimously to criminalize it in their state, and our partners, the Animal Welfare Institute, the National Link Coalition, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and Jenny Edwards, a criminologist and researcher on the issue, for their work in helping to passing this law. We hope other states will follow Kentucky’s example by passing similar laws or strengthening existing ones.
At the HSUS, we intend to confront this issue with every tool available, and we’ll continue to collaborate with law enforcement agencies, veterinarians, social workers, psychologists, educators and other stakeholders to suppress it entirely. At the federal level, the Humane Society Legislative Fund team is working for the passage of the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, H.R. 724. The bill would make the most malicious acts of animal cruelty — including sexually exploiting animals or crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating and impaling them — felony crimes under federal law, if there’s an interstate commerce component or if the cruelty occurs on federal property.
The news from Kentucky is one more blow struck against a crime that has no place in a civilized society. Join me today in applauding Kentucky lawmakers and Gov. Bevin for their action; they’ve done the right thing. And please contact your federal lawmakers today and ask them to support the PACT Act in Congress. We’ll be pushing hard to see it passed this year, and Kentucky’s action has given the cause a real boost.