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Is Childhood Cruelty to Animals a Marker for Physical Maltreatment in a Prospective Cohort Study of Children?

NCJ Number
Child Abuse and Neglect Volume: 38 Issue: 3 Dated: March 2014 Pages: 533-543
Fiona S. McEwen; Terrie E. Moffitt; Louise Arseneault
Date Published
March 2014
11 pages
This British study examined the prevalence of cruelly to animals among 5- to 12-year-old children; the link between cruelty to animals, child physical maltreatment, and adult domestic violence; and whether cruelty to animals is a marker of a child's maltreatment.
Among a cohort of 2,232 children ages 5-12 who lived in the United Kingdom, 9 percent were reported by their mothers to be cruel to animals; only 2.6 percent were reported to be habitually cruel to animals. Most cruelty to animals involved younger children; the apparent rarity of cruelty to animals in children ages 10-12 is likely the result of both a decline in cruel behavior and a decline in mothers' awareness of what may be a covert behavior in older children. Childhood cruelty to animals was more common in those who had been physically maltreated than in those who had not been maltreated, however, only a minority of maltreated children was cruel to animals. Cruelty to animals was more likely to indicate a history of maltreatment in children from socioeconomically disadvantaged families. The report concludes that although cruelty to animals may indicate an increased risk that a child has been maltreated, there is no way to determine whether the risk is current and ongoing. The link between child maltreatment and childhood cruelty to animals is likely to be complex and moderated by a range of other child, family, and neighborhood factors. Data for this study were obtained from the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study, an epidemiological representative cohort of 2,234 children. Mothers reported on cruelty to animals when children were 5, 7, 10, and 12 years old, as well as child maltreatment and domestic violence. 2 tables, 3 figures, and 43 references