The “violence link” between abuse of pets and domestic violence: a call to action for service providers
“Why don’t they just leave?”
Those of us who work in the domestic violence movement have heard it many times. There is a common misconception that it is easy to choose to end an abusive relationship. In reality, the decision to seek a life free from violence is a complex calculation, and unique to every survivor.
For older survivors, the decision to “just leave” can be especially complicated. Often, the abuser is an intimate partner with whom the victim has spent many decades of their life. They may be reluctant to leave the family home and all the memories and possessions acquired over the course of the relationship. In some cases, the abuser is a caregiver, so victims may fear a loss of support or independence if they report the abuse. The abuser may also be a child or grandchild, and revealing that they are being abusive can result in shame and embarrassment on the part of the victim.
Older survivors may already face service barriers in emergency or temporary housing that lack accessible accommodations or age-tailored supports. Another common complication for survivors of any age is the presence of pets in the home. Most domestic violence shelters are unable to accommodate pets. And, as anyone who has loved a companion animal will tell you, it can be unthinkable to abandon a pet, especially when doing so may put the animal at risk for harm. The National Domestic Violence Hotline shares that as many as 65 percent of domestic violence victims are unable to escape abusive situations because they’re concerned about what will happen to their pets.
Joanna Chiu of the Toronto Star wrote a terrific piece exploring what Canadian researchers have learned about the “violence link” – which hypothesizes that the abuse of animals and abuse of people are not distinct problems. Fortunately, this research has inspired more North American domestic violence shelters to offer safe havens for pets as well as people. You can read more here.
- Search Safe Havens for Pets database to find a pet-friendly shelter near you
- Find tips on creating a safety plan that includes pets from the National Domestic Violence Hotline
- Suggested reading: Urban Resource Institute (URI) and the National Domestic Violence Hotline (The Hotline) PALS Report and Survey: Breaking Barriers to Safety and Healing,
Written by Ann E. Laatsch, J.D., Justice System Coordinator, National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life