Ruth McKie & Di Turgoose

Abstract title: Children and Pets: The Hidden Victims of Domestic Violence & Abuse (DVA): Where Action & Activism merge!

Authors: Ruth McKie & Di Turgoose

Presentation type: Poster


Researchers such as Harne (2011) and Radford et al (2011) have long championed the area of Children’s rights in the DVA field and the Government’s VAWG strategy has begun to recognise young people as victims of DVA as a distinct issue. Another gain thus far has been that the Home Office (2013) definition now recognises victims from age 17 years. Moreover, the Government’s draft Domestic Abuse Bill (2019) commits itself to better addressing young people’s needs alongside making improvements for children, though it does fall short of recognising children as victims of DVA independently. Nonetheless, there continues to be calls to progress the agenda to recognise that child victims be given independent agency, with research and practice strategically developed to address their needs specifically, as well as within the broader context of DVA prevention (e.g. NSPCC 2019).

In a similar vein, we argue that the concept of denial of agency, is equally applicable to other types of hidden victims of DVA including that of companion animals/pets. While some research has explored the link between victims and their companion animals in DVA relationships (e.g. Flynn, 2000, 2011), the area of agency and its denial has been relatively underexplored as it relates to animals. Arguably, one reason for this, is the notion of a broader ontological debate on anthropocentrism and speciesism. More specifically, an anthropocentric perspective of companion animals has provided some developments towards their protection such as pet fostering services offered to victims experiencing DVA when seeking to escape/flee. This is aligned with a hierarchal concept of the species placing humans at the top of a policy agenda comparative to non-human species (e.g. Beirne, 2013).


On the other hand, a speciesist perspective explores and emphasises the rights of animals, where animals are given independent agency in the same way as humans (e.g. Sollund, 2011). This perspective then translates into policy and criminal law regarding the treatment of animals as victims of animal cruelty. These services already exist in for instance animal organisations taking responsibility for prosecutions of animal cruelty. However, we contend that the treatment of companion animals/pets should – not unlike the developments regarding children as victims of DVA – be incorporated into the same approach to developing and tackling strategies to address DVA.

This poster explores the steps taken to date to draw attention to and develop a research and policy agenda of DVA for Pets, how this interlinks with the rights of children and what may be the blocks, challenges and enabling forces to start a collaborative discussion as to how to best address/recognise animal agency.  We propose a broader theoretical development to help understand these victims of DVA using ‘The Power and Control Wheel’ model.  Raising awareness of the need for the intersection of agency and highlighting that children and pets are very different to adults in numerous ways has important implications for service delivery and community resources which may help professionals and advocates to develop the support mechanisms these victims really need to survive and best recover from the trauma of DVA.



Beirne, P (2013) Animal Rights, Animal Abuse and Green Criminology, in Beirne, P and South, N (eds) Issues in Green Criminology, Willan Publishing.

Flynn, C, P., (2011) Examining the Links between animal abuse and human violence, Crime, Law and Social Change, 55(5), pp453-468.

Flynn, C, P., (2000) Woman’s Best Friend: Pet Abuse and the Role of Companion Animals in the Lives of Battered Women, Violence Against Women 6(2), pp.162-177

Harne, L. (2011) Violent Fathering and the Risks to Children: The Need for Change, The Policy Press

NSPCC (2019) Government must recognise children as victims when living with domestic abuse. Available at:

Radford, L., Corral, S., Bradley, C., Fisher, H., Bassett, C., Howat, N., Collishaw, S (2011)., Child Abuse and Neglect in the UK today, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Available at:

Sollund, R (2011) Expressions of Speciesism: the effect of keeping companion animals on animal abuse, animal trafficking and species decline, Crime, Law and Social Change, 55(5) pp. 437-451.


Keywords: Speciesism; children and pets; hidden victims; DVA; Agency