Animal Abuse Symposium: Situating Animals in Crime.

Animal Abuse Symposium: Situating Animals in Crime.
5-6 July, 2010, Cardiff.

I had the pleasure of giving an address at a criminological conference recently. This is a short report about the event.

Piers Beirne, professor of sociology and legal studies, and the leading scholar in terms of non-speciesist criminology, opened the conference with a paper entitled, “Animal Rights, Animal Abuse and Criminology: An Introduction.” Piers commented on the “numerous sites at which animals and animal abuse have appeared in the history of criminology.” He pointed out that nonhuman animals have not been absent from criminological accounts but that they have most often featured as peripheral characters and in terms of their master status as human property items.

Speaking of criminology’s “speciesist and anthropocentric past,” Piers spoke about the new initiatives in criminology, such as green criminology and zemiology, to overcome this problem. During the course of the conference, Piers’ opposition to Peter Singer’s views on bestiality[1] was also discussed.

Professor of Sociology, Clifton Flynn, presented the second paper on “the link,” or “Exploring the Connection Between Animal Abuse and Human Violence.” Clifton has published widely on his research topic focused on animal abuse and its relationship with family violence. However, he is keen to point out that the study of animal abuse should be undertaken not just because of its links with human harm but because direct harm to nonhuman individuals is an issue that should concern criminologists.

Dr. Jennifer Maher, criminology lecturer and research associate, and Dr. Harriet Pierpoint, reader in criminology and criminal justice, both at the University of Glamorgan, spoke about their research into “The Role of Animal in Youth Groups and Gangs.” Jenny and Harriet’s research concentrates on the “gangs” (a contested concept in criminology) and groupings that typically breed and keep so-called “dangerous dogs,” “status dogs,” and “tough dogs.” It appears that dogs who are banned by the British government have high status in such groups, and a whole series of new terms has emerged in order for owners to talk about and trade their animal property. Jenny and Harriet’s ethnographic research has attempted to penetrate into the world of dog fighting, “dog rolling,” and “chain fighting.”

Ranghild Sollund, senior researcher at the Norwegian Social Research Institute, and expert in issues such as migrating women, refugees, and the relationship between the police and ethnic minorities, presented her paper about her interest in Green Criminology and especially the issue of speciesism. Ranghild takes well-established criminological themes, such as “techniques of neutralisation,” and applies them to the study of speciesism. She argues that, “No human being can go through life unaffected by other animals. The predominant basis of this contact is organised around humans’ consumption of the other animals which surround us, and human beings’ “needs.” She contrasted the way nonhuman animals are used as pets and as meat and then concentrated on the trafficking of animals in the context of the CITES convention, highlighting the theme with clips from YouTube. She concluded by stating that, “not only does so-called animal welfare legislation legitimate animal abuse, the CITES convention does also serve to legitimate poaching, trade and trafficking in animals because only those species that are endangered enjoy certain protection.”  

I was next and presented an update and brief account of the main themes in the research I conducted on “horse ripping” or “horse maiming” which I co-wrote with Professors Piers Beirne and Chris Powell. I have previously posted an early version of this work, by myself and Chris, as a blog entry, HERE. Professor Beirne’s contribution to the work was to subsequently frame the research within the overarching issue of “moral panic.” Piers updated the paper and expanded on the theme in his 2009 book, Confronting Animal Abuse: Law, Criminology, and Human-Animal Relationships.

The final paper, “The Legal Community’s Collective Failure to Take Animal Welfare Law Seriously,” was presented by Dr. Darren Calley, ex-hunt saboteur, and now lecturer in the law department of the University of Essex. Darren argued that English law generally deals with animal welfare or animal suffering cases in the form of a review and, “rarely, if ever, will courts subject the legislation to a “proper” legal analysis.” Dr. Calley suggests that the effect is a stifling of the development of law and, “runs counter to the Common Law tradition.” 

During the second day, the conference speakers met to discuss how to move forward. We are hopeful that a special edition of a criminology journal will follow, and panels at forthcoming criminology conferences and then a book based around the theme of situating nonhuman animals in criminology.

[1] Piers Beirne has replaced the term “bestiality” with “interspecies sexual assault” and, more recently, “animal sexual assault.”

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