How Pets And Children Can Keep Women In Abusive Situations

By Heather Ramsey on Friday, March 18, 2016
Girl with puppy lying on grass
“To my way of thinking there’s something wrong, or missing, with any person who hasn’t got a soft spot in their heart for an animal of some kind.” —Will James

In A Nutshell

In the US alone, over 42 million women have been assaulted and/or stalked by a husband or boyfriend at some time in their lives. Up to 60 percent of their children are also likely to suffer abuse from their fathers. Victims may feel that they have to return to their abusers to protect their children because women rarely get sole custody and abuse can escalate toward the children otherwise. According to the Humane Society, 33 percent of abused women also stay in harmful relationships to protect their pets and 25 percent return to their abusers for the same reason. The PAWS Act in the US Congress would provide money to emergency shelters for pets of abuse victims, but the legislation hasn’t made it out of committee as of this writing.

The Whole Bushel

Many times, domestic abuse affects more than just a man and his wife or girlfriend. In relationships where children and pets are involved, a male abuser will often target the children and pets as a way to control or retaliate against the abused woman.

(Although there are cases of men being abused, the overwhelming majority of abusers are men. This article will focus on relationships between abusive men and their wives or girlfriends.)

In the US, over 42 million women have been assaulted and/or stalked by a husband or boyfriend at some time in their lives. Up to 60 percent of their children are also likely to suffer abuse from their fathers. In fact, abusive men are 42 percent more likely to increase the abuse of their children if they are already battering their wives.

However, it’s not that easy for women to get out of these situations, because they’re 75 percent more likely to die at the hands of their abusers when they try to leave.

In addition, when women leave, they often find that mediators and the family court system are not on their side, especially when child custody arrangements are involved and the abusive male is good at appearing friendly or even charming during the proceedings. Even when the man threatened the woman, mediators only recommended protected child exchanges in 32 percent of cases studied.

Women who revealed domestic abuse were often ignored and actually more likely to lose custody than those who didn’t. Even when women had proof of physical violence toward them, they weren’t always taken seriously.

In cases where the abuse was more psychological or controlling, mediators tended to ignore it, even if the man was threatening harm to the children. The factors that were most likely to result in a recommendation or ruling against the father in a custody case were his belligerent behavior during the proceedings, his criminal history, his use of drugs or alcohol, and his desire not to have custody. Studies have consistently shown that an abused woman’s fears are taken more seriously if her abuser is aggressive or belligerent in front of police officers, mediators, or the court.

This sets a worrisome precedent for those abusers who can conduct themselves properly in public.

Female victims may feel that they have to return to their abusers to protect their children because women rarely get sole custody and abuse can escalate toward the children otherwise. Abusers may use children to control women by mistreating and physically abusing these kids and even threatening to kill them.

Finances play a huge role in forcing women to return to abusive men. The woman may have few job prospects and little or no savings. Homelessness and hunger is a real worry, especially when children are involved. Her abuser may refuse to pay ordered child support, and she may not be able to get medical care for a sick child if an insurance policy belongs to her husband.

But children aren’t the only concern. According to the Humane Society, 33 percent of abused women stay in harmful relationships to protect their pets. Twenty-five percent return to their abusers for the same reason.

The National Link Coalition says over 71 percent of female victims said their abusers had threatened, hurt, or killed their pets. Most of the time, this occurred right in front of them or their children to control and demean them. As one woman reported in a study from the University of Illinois, “He made me stand there and . . . watch [him kill my cat]. And he was like, ‘That could happen to you.’ ”

Most shelters for women don’t allow pets. So the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine started a program to care for the pets of abused women who were staying in two shelters in their area. The women can leave their pets at the facility for up to a month while they try to find other housing.

The PAWS Act of 2015 was introduced to the US Congress to provide money for emergency, short-term shelters for pets of abuse victims. However, the bill never even made it out of committee and appears to have been forgotten.

Show Me The Proof

Violence and Victims: The “Medea complex” among men
Crisis Connection: Why do some women, who have been abused by their intimate partner, return to these men?
Journal of Family Violence: Abused Mothers’ Safety Concerns and Court Mediators’ Custody Recommendations
Mic: One Reason Domestic Violence Victims Stay That No One Is Talking About
Science Daily: Why won’t she leave him? Abused women often fear for pets left behind