USC Upstate News

USC Upstate Professor Addresses International Conference on Animal Ethics

10- 04- 2007

Clif_FlynnSpartanburg, S.C.  - On one remarkable day in September 2007, animal rights activists, law enforcement personnel, educators, academics, social workers, veterinarians, lawyers, doctors, therapists and law-makers from around the globe gathered in Oxford, England, for the first-of-its-kind conference hosted by the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics called the “Relationship Between Animal Abuse and Human Violence.”

With 21 speakers including Dr. Clif Flynn, professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina Upstate, the conference took a multifaceted approach to examining the links between animal cruelty and human abusive relationships.

“It was a nice mix of academics and professionals from all over the world—well known in their fields for their work—who would benefit from being there,” says Flynn. 

“Beauty and the Beasts: Woman-battering, Pet Abuse and Human-animal Relationships” was the name of the paper Flynn delivered in the session that focused on animal abuse and violence towards women in a domestic violence setting. Other sessions focused on children’s violence towards animals, how offenders are handled by the legal system, the role of veterinarians in reporting animal abuse, philosophical perspectives on abuse, and discussions of socially condoned cruelty to animals.

“Beauty and the Beasts” examined the significance of the relationship between battered women and their companion animals, drawing on data from several studies, including one Flynn conducted in 1998 on 107 women at a Spartanburg area domestic violence shelter published in the journal Violence Against Women in February 2000.

An interesting finding from the study was that three-fourths of women who were pet owners found their pets to be “sources of emotional support in dealing with their own abusive situations,” writes Flynn. Often, the pets had been abused as well, perhaps targeted by the batterer because of the close bond between the pet and the abused woman.

“Pets are not stuffed animals,” says Flynn, adding “We should view animals as individuals—they are persons with whom women have meaningful contact—and their relationship can be the most important one the woman has besides her children.”

Because the pet is often considered a member of the family, women are reluctant to leave the pet behind while they seek shelter from the abuse, often delaying the move by weeks or months, according to Flynn. Unfortunately getting the pet out of the abusive situation can be complicated as few shelters can make provisions for animals and lack the ability to arrange foster care.

The host of the conference, the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, was founded in 2006 “to enhance the ethical status of animals through academic research, teaching and publications,” according to Professor Andrew Linzey, director of the centre. More information is available online at www.oxfordanimalethics.com. Professor Flynn can be reached by calling (864) 503-5635 or by email cflynn@uscupstate.edu.