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Significance of family risk factors in development of childhood animal cruelty

18 April 2003


The literature suggests that children who abuse animals may be at risk towards becoming violent into adulthood. In addition, research suggests certain family risk factors may be associated with childhood animal cruelty. However, because childhood animal cruelty is a symptom of Conduct Disorder (CD), it is unclear whether family risk factors serve as specific antecedents of cruelty to animals (CTA) versus more general antecedents of conduct behavior problems.

In the current study, two groups of early to late adolescent boys (CTA and N-CTA) were compared on histories of physical child abuse, sexual child abuse, paternal alcoholism, paternal unavailability, and domestic violence. The literature suggests that these family risk factors may be significant in development of CT A. The adolescents in Group 1 were boys who had conduct problems with documented histories of animal cruelty (n = 50;CTA). Group 2 consisted of adolescent boys (n = 50; N-CTA) with conduct problems without documented histories of animal cruelty. Results found that children in the CTA group had significantly greater histories of physical and/or sexual child abuse and
domestic violence in comparison to children in the N-CTA group.

These results suggest that physical and/or sexual abuse to a child, and exposure to domestic violence, may be significant in development of childhood animal cruelty. Assessment and intervention of childhood animal cruelty should address the problem behavior as well as the abusive experiences it may signify to prevent more serious and persistent behavior problems into adulthood.


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