It's The Law, Part 5—Animal Sexual Abuse

by Felicia Langel, DVM

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently listed animal cruelty as a "Group A" felony and now considers it a "crime against society." Like murder, arson, and assault, animal cruelty now has its own category in the FBI crime database, known as the National Incident-Based Reporting System, or NIBRS. Law enforcement agencies now report incidents and arrests in four areas: simple or gross neglect; intentional abuse and torture; organized abuse, including dogfighting and cockfighting; and animal sexual abuse.

Animal sexual abuse is the sexual molestation of an animal, to include forcible rape, sodomy, and injuring or killing an animal for sexual gratification. These acts are most commonly known as bestiality, but abusers often refer to themselves as zoophiles and zoosexuals. Many species of animals have been targeted, but due to their accessibility as companion animals, dogs and horses are the most frequent victims. Evidence of abuse among survivors includes anal and genital damage, as well as wounds to the dog muzzle and ears during restraint. Survivors tend to be very fearful when approached or touched from behind, and are unusually difficult to restrain during veterinary exams and grooming due to the association of restraint with abuse.

In most states, animal sexual abuse is covered under animal cruelty laws; however, in some states, such abuse is defined in older laws that cover sexual morality. As these laws have fallen out of favor in recent years, efforts are underway to modernize them. FBI interest in tracking this type of animal cruelty lends additional support to redefining such cases as crimes against society.

If you see or suspect animal neglect or another form of cruelty, report it to Frederick County Animal Control (301-600-1544 or 301-600-2558 after hours) or dial 911. You may choose to report animal cruelty anonymously, though doing so may hinder the investigation. You may also submit complaints related to animal cruelty online: http://www.frederickcountymd.gov/requesttracker.aspx.

Felicia Langel, DVM, is Lieutenant Colonel, US Army Veterinary Corps, and secretary of Frederick County's Companion Animal Welfare Advisory Committee.