Hundreds of studies during the past 40 years have demonstrated a clear link between violence against animals and forms of interpersonal violence, including domestic violence, child abuse, and elder abuse. Juvenile and family court judges have an important role in addressing, intervening in, and preventing interpersonal violence and harms against household members, including pets, in juvenile or family law cases. To effectively carry out this role and respond appropriately to cases that involve co-occurring harms against humans and animals, judges need to have knowledge of the links between animal cruelty and interpersonal violence, the laws that recognize that animals can be crime victims, and the tools and resources that exist to promote the safety and wellbeing of both humans and animals.
In 2019, the NCJFCJ Board of Directors adopted a Resolution Regarding Animal Cruelty and Its Link to Other Forms of Violence, which notes the empirical research that demonstrates a direct link between animal cruelty and interpersonal violence, including intimate partner abuse, child abuse, and elder abuse. The NCJFCJ recognized that animal cruelty was a crime of violence and may be indicative of past or future violent acts. It also recognized that when animals are subject to cruelty, the court should consider the welfare of such abused animals in reaching its decisions. It should do this in the context of juvenile and family court cases of domestic violence because of the demonstrated link to the safety of human beings at the hands of the animal abuser. The resolution further stated that the NCJFCJ will collaborate with allied experts to develop and make available educational resources and trainings to assist judges in better understanding the issues and implications for juvenile and family court cases involving animal cruelty.
As a matter of policy and recommended practice, the NCJFCJ encourages juvenile and family court judges to consider and promote the immediate and long-term safety of children, the elderly, intimate partners, and pets in cases involving child abuse, domestic violence, elder abuse, and juvenile offending. In order to provide judges, courts, and related agencies with the knowledge and skills they need to handle this broad range of considerations, the NCJFCJ is committed to developing training and technical assistance resources on the link, and what judges can do, on and off of the bench, to address the link.
The NCJFCJ has had a decade’s long interest in the connections that animals have with the juvenile and family court system. The NCJFCJ has explored these connections through conference sessions and articles on the topics and practices such as canine court companions and therapy animals, domestic violence victim protection that includes pets, juveniles who commit acts of animal cruelty, therapeutic correctional programs that involve at-risk youth and at-risk dogs, and animal welfare as part of trauma-informed justice.
In 2019, the NCJFCJ began a partnership with the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), a national nonprofit law organization dedicated to protecting the lives and advancing the interests of animals through the legal system. In 2019, the NCJFCJ-ALDF partnership convened a group of judges to explore education and advocacy needed to assist judges in understanding the links between animal abuse and interpersonal violence and in responding appropriately to cases involving co-occurring animal and human abuse. The convening led to the creation of an ongoing Advisory Group to help the partnership identify judicial training and technical assistance needs and to develop resources to meet those needs. Through the NCJFCJ-ALDF partnership, the NCJFCJ has developed various materials to educate juvenile and family court judges on animal cruelty and its links to harms against humans. These include the following technical assistance bulletin and webinars below:
- What Judges Need to Know about Animal Cruelty, Child Abuse, and Juvenile Offending: A Two-Part Webinar Series
- What Judges Need to Know about Animal Cruelty Issues in Family Law Cases: A Three-Part Webinar Series
NCJFCJ staff and Advisory Group members provide trainings at NCJFCJ-sponsored conferences as well as conferences sponsored by national partner organizations and state court organizations.
In addition, the NCJFCJ is creating relationships with other national education and advocacy organizations like the National LINK Coalition to add the voice of family and juvenile court judges to the perspectives and resources that such organizations offer on animal welfare and protection.
Finally, the NCJFCJ is enhancing signature training curricula and publications with information about animal cruelty and its demonstrated link to interpersonal violence including domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse, and juvenile justice cases to enhance judicial decision-making.
Many of the judges and other stakeholders who participate in the project Advisory Group or who attend our trainings are initiating efforts in their communities and states to create or support collaboratives of court, child welfare, animal services, domestic violence stakeholders, and professionals for community education on the connections and effective responses to animal cruelty and interpersonal violence. Advisory Group judges are also providing judicial leadership at the state level for statewide training and for creating state-specific resources on domestic violence, child abuse, and elder abuse case law, court proceedings, and services that include animal cruelty considerations.
The NCJFCJ envisions judges who are knowledgeable of the links between animal cruelty and interpersonal violence and who use that knowledge to respond to juvenile and family court cases that involve animal cruelty issues in ways that safeguard the wellbeing of both humans and pets in these cases. The NCJFCJ envisions judges who understand that violence against humans and animals causes trauma to both humans and animals and they seek assessments and services to address and heal such trauma. The NCJFCJ envisions judges who provide leadership to their communities and their states to promote laws, resources and processes for the safety and wellbeing of youth and families that include family animals. The NCJFCJ envisions judges who engage community stakeholders and local child-, family- and animal-serving practitioners to work in collaboration to understand and address the links between animal cruelty and interpersonal violence in ways that are specific to each community and its needs.
If you are interested in training or technical assistance on the links between animal cruelty and interpersonal violence and what judges need to know and can do, please contact Dr. Martha-Elin Blomquist, NCJFCJ Senior Site Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org