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Congress should ban malicious animal cruelty and bestiality



Last week, the Kansas City Star reported that an elementary school worker in Springfield was being investigated by federal authorities for pornography involving sexual acts between that individual, a 4-year-old child and a dog. The facts in this case as we understand them are deeply disturbing and, by all appearances, the U.S. attorney in the region is taking the matter seriously. We have federal anti-pornography and child exploitation statutes that may enable a prosecution if the facts line up adversely for the suspect. But there’s no federal statute to criminalize a wide range of malicious acts of animal cruelty, including bestiality. In short, there’s a gap in the federal law, and it’s time for the federal government to enact a federal anti-cruelty statute that complements the anti-cruelty standards established in state law. The legislative embodiment of that idea is the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (H.R. 1494/S. 654) introduced by U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Ted Deutch, D-Fla., in the House, and Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., in the Senate. Between them, the bills have massive bipartisan support, with more than 260 lawmakers cosponsoring the bills, and they’ve been endorsed not just by The HSUS, but also by the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the National Children’s Center, and hundreds of local law enforcement agencies. The PACT Act would enable the federal government to prosecute malicious acts of animal cruelty on federal property such as military bases, federal prisons, airports, and national parks. It would also enable federal authorities to crack down on the practice of bestiality, which like animal fighting and the “crush video” trade, involves a national subculture where animals are often moved across state lines and where information is exchanged on websites to enable this exploitation to happen. Such websites are gathering places for people with deviant sexual behavior. One site with more than a million registered users, for example, hosts thousands of advertisements, categorized by state, from people seeking animals to sexually abuse. Craigslist is another online forum used to facilitate bestiality. During any one week, a state’s Craigslist page has dozens of ads from people soliciting or offering animals for sex, often to be transported across state lines. There are still five states that do not prohibit bestiality — Hawaii, Kentucky, New Mexico, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Bestiality is also associated with child pornography and other sexual crimes against humans. During the course of child exploitation investigations, for example, detectives commonly find sexual predators in possession of bestiality materials. In fact, in a study of more than 44,000 adult males evaluated for sexual misconduct, researchers concluded that bestiality is the number one risk factor and the strongest predictor of increased risk of sexual abuse of a child. A study from the University of Tennessee determined that human sex offenders were eight times more likely than the general population to have a history of bestiality. Sexual predators move their animal victims across state lines to abuse them and there is a predictive association of this behavior with human-to-human sexual abuse. We have federal laws to stop specific acts of cruelty, such as injuring Tennessee walking horses or staging animal fights. The Senate passed the PACT Act last year, but the House failed to act, even though a solid majority of that chamber backed the legislation. It’s past due for both chambers of Congress to adopt a standard against general malicious acts of animal cruelty, including bestiality. Congress can attend to its other legislative priorities and take care of this item too, making animals and people safer in the process.

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