PETA: don’t you need ethics to be ethical?

by endlesspsych

PETA may have been a force for good and not full of insane fundamentalist loonies whose latest trick has been to link animal abuse and child abuse (via Baby P’s killer).  In this blog we will explore the grounds for assuming   a link but even if one if found this does not excuse the populist and appalling tactics employed by PETA in advertising and advancing their cause. 

I mean using the image is distasteful enough but putting it up on a billboard in Haringey, north London, where 17-month-old Peter lived and died in 2007 – well that just shows PETA have had somewhat of a sensitivity bypass. The text below the image of Barker read: “Steven Barker: Animal Abuser, Baby Abuser, Rapist. People who are violent towards animals rarely stop there.”

However research seems to indicate that there is an argument to assume that violence towards and abuse of animals could be predictive of other forms of domestic violence and violence against people.  Arkow (1997) explored the “Relationships Between Animal Abuse and Other Forms of Family Violence” and the following comes from the abstract:

domestic violence intervention programs have also begun to recognize animal abuse as being not only potentially predictive of violent behaviors against humans, but also as part of the constellation of dysfunctional family symptomatology. Abuse against animals, when perpetrated or observed by juveniles, has a pernicious capability of evolving into generalized desensitization to violence and into acts of violence in adulthood. Children who observe domestic violence may imitate abusive behaviors through violent acts against animals.

Arkow’s paper is a literature review covering the history of the animal and child protection services and research on the subject but it highlights the issue with drawing a link between people abusing animals and moving on to abuse people. What it seems more to indicate is those who are powerless in abusive situations perpetrate acts of abuse against those less powerful then themselves. A child who is beaten  is perhaps more likely than a non-abused child to abuse an animal but this does not imply a direct link between animal abuse and child abuse in the direction PETA seem want to imply. Rather it implies that people who suffer abuse at the hands of other people may go on to abuse other people and also animals.  A study by Flynn (1999) develops this idea and found that children of parents who often physically punished them were more likely than children of parents who did not chastise them physically to harm animals.

Studies in the field of interpersonal violence suggest that the biggest predictor for children becoming abusive or growing up to become abusers is still witnessing or being a victim of domestic violence.  Thus animal abuse may serve as an indicator of other types of abuse or a risk marker for a child growing up to abuse and become violent towards other adults or even children.

So PETA’s position is not only unsurprisingly sensationalist it also implies the relationship is (IMO) the wrong way around. People who abuse animals don’t go on to abuse people – people who are abused by (or witness abuse by) other people may go on to abuse animals.

But what can we really expect from the people who gave us this?:

I’d also like to draw attention to a Jack of Kent blog on the rights of animals – which is a good read and raises an interesting point. Animals do not have inalienable rights – if they did we would have to stop cats chasing and killing mice and interfere in their lives to such an extent I’d worry how the carnivores would survive!

No animals don’t have rights rather we have a responsibility towards them to make sure we, as human beings, treat them without cruelty.

To my mind this responsibility extends as far as ensuring that animals used for food production and medical research are treated well during their lifes and not beaten or otherwise mistreated.  However I do not hold that animals should be given the same rights as human beings as they can have no concept of the responsibilities that go along with them.

You can tell a person that “the right to swing their fist stops at someone elses face” but do you want to work out how to tell a lion that their right to maul stops at the antelopes backside?

Or maybe the lions are just running after the antelopes to give them a potato?