In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Crimes Against Animals

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Other Reference Resources
  • Theoretical Development and Speciesism
  • Animal Abuse and Other Forms of Antisocial Behavior
  • Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence
  • Animals as Property
  • Anticruelty Statutes, Animals as Crime Victims, Prison-Based Programs, and the Role of Animal Advocacy in Courts
  • Animal Activism as Terrorism
  • Abuse of Animals Used for Scientific Experiments
  • Animal Abuse, Factory Farming, and Food
  • Abuse of Animals in Zoos and as Companion Animals
  • Animal Rights as Part of Green Criminology

Criminology Crimes Against Animals
Kenna Quinet
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0127


Why has crime toward animals played a relatively small role in criminology? Why are there no measures of crimes against animals in the Uniform Crime Report? Why is animal abuse rarely a stand-alone dependent variable in criminology? Criminological attention has been paid to one dimension of animal abuse, and much of this work is based on various aspects of a “violence graduation hypothesis” and focused on whether people who abuse animals are more likely to go on to be violent toward humans. This focus, that we should study animal abuse because it might be related to interpersonal violence against humans rather than because violence toward animals is worthy of criminological attention on its own merit, is in itself a speciesist view. There are myriad other important issues overlapping with mainstream criminological inquiry including defining and measuring animal cruelty, animals’ status as property, animals as crime victims, the use of animals in prison-based and other therapeutic programs, and the criminalization of animal advocacy as terrorism. This bibliography includes work in criminal justice and criminology journals on these aspects of animal abuse and also includes animal abuse-related topics and work from other disciplines including the humanities and social sciences, veterinary science, law, philosophy, and animal welfare advocates. Issues of animal rights, abuse, and welfare include law and policy, theoretical paradigms to explain animal abuse, issues concerning the definition of animal abuse, and philosophical discussions of rights and specifically animal rights and speciesism within the context of discussions of other “isms” (e.g., racism, sexism, capitalism). Traditional criminological definitions of abuse are expanded to include discussions of other less traditional notions of abuse including animals in zoos, animals as entertainment, animals used for scientific experimentation, and animals as food. There is debate within the animal cruelty literature: some writings advocate for animal welfare—to limit but not necessarily end animal suffering, while others advocate for a stronger and often more controversial animal rights perspective that calls for full rights for animals and the abolition of meat, hunting, experimentation, and animals as entertainment. Also included in this review are the commonalities with broader issues of green criminology and crimes against animals. The literature cited in this article is intended to reflect many of the primary perspectives and research of the international community over the last thirty-five years, leaning more heavily on more recent studies by leading scholars in the field as they contain summaries of previous work.

General Overviews

Beirne 1999, a seminal paper on the speciesist nature of the field of criminology, notes the void of work on animals within criminology as well as the lack of discussion of the topic in virtually any criminology and criminal justice textbooks. Beirne not only notes the lack of criminological attention to crimes against animals but also makes insightful arguments about why theory and research on animal abuse should be part of criminology. Beirne’s criminological treatise was written almost twenty-five years after the modern-day animal rights movement began with the 1975 publication of Animal Liberation by Peter Singer (see Singer 2002). In addition to the foundational work of Singer, Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights (Regan 1983) and Regan 2001, a collection of Regan’s essays focusing on the key issues surrounding animal rights, helped to shape the current research on animal abuse. Regan 1980 delineates the utilitarian view and rights view for animals, and Regan and Singer 1989 presents the key philosophical and historical foundations of thinking about animals. In addition to the pivotal works of Singer and Regan, which outline the animal protectionism and animal rights perspectives, others, including Sunstein and Nussbaum 2004, an edited volume of reprinted and new essays, reflect the continuum of views toward animals from the welfarist to legal autonomy as reflected in contemporary debates, issues of law and public policy, and theoretical development. Feminist works point to the role of patriarchy in oppressing not only women but also animals. Dunayer 2004, a critique of the current state of the animal rights movement, provides insights into the difference between incremental animal welfare improvements in the quality of life for animals (which are eventually killed for food, clothing, and scientific experimentation or when no longer useful for entertainment) and a total abolition of all exploitation of nonhuman animals. Indicative of the progress made, Engel and Jenni 2010 outlines how to present animal rights and abuse issues to students within the emerging academic field of inquiry known as human–animal studies.

  • Beirne, Piers. 1999. For a nonspeciesist criminology: Animal abuse as an object of study. Criminology 37.1: 117–148.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.1999.tb00481.x

    Groundbreaking arguments for the inclusion of theory and research on animal abuse in criminology as well including animal abuse as a signifier of interpersonal human violence, an object of criminal law, a component of utilitarianism, part of a discussion of rights, and the inclusion of speciesism as one of several oppressions including racism and feminism. An essential read for all. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Dunayer, Joan. 2004. Speciesism. Derwood, MD: Ryce.

    A critique of the traditional animal rights perspectives as contributing to the oppression of animals. Dunayer calls for an abolitionist approach and criticizes what she refers to as “old speciesism” that limited rights to only humans but also criticizes the “new speciesism” present in the work of most current animal rights scholars and animal welfare activists, who extend rights for only a few nonhuman species, specifically those most like humans.

  • Engel, Mylan, Jr., and Kathie Jenni. 2010. The philosophy of animal rights: A brief introduction for students and teachers. New York: Lantern.

    This book offers a wealth of information for those teaching classes in the field of intellectual inquiry known as human–animal studies. Includes key issues and positions of animal rights as well as course syllabi, bibliographies, a helpful list of animal-related journals and websites, and marketing suggestions for courses. An essential read for those developing courses in animal abuse and animal rights.

  • Regan, Tom. 1980. Utilitarianism, vegetarianism, and animal rights. Philosophy and Public Affairs 9.4: 305–324.

    A statement about not only the moral obligation to not eat animals but also a delineation of Regan’s view of rights for animals and Singer’s utilitarian view. Giving rights to animals is illustrated via the analogy of giving rights to human morons/severely enfeebled humans. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Regan, Tom. 1983. The case for animal rights. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    One of the earliest major contributions to the modern animal rights movement. A thorough rights-based argument for animals through an extension of the Enlightenment notion of natural rights with discussion of the distinction between moral rights and legal rights; the moral agents who have a duty toward others, including animals; animals as worthy of respectful treatment; and the many ways we do harm to animals.

  • Regan, Tom. 2001. Defending animal rights. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

    An enlightening collection of Regan’s classic essays focusing on the key issues, many of which are philosophical, of the animal rights movement. Discussions of animal rights in the context of other social movements including slavery and gay rights; includes excellent essays on the role of science and religion in perpetuating the immoral treatment of animals.

  • Regan, Tom, and Peter Singer, eds. 1989. Animal rights and human obligations. 2d ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

    An essential reader including excerpts from the classic works of Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Bentham, Darwin, and many others documenting the history of thinking about animals. Other essays confront issues of sameness and difference between humans and other animals, the debate about whether animals should have rights, the treatment of farm animals and wildlife, and animals used in science. Originally published in 1976.

  • Singer, Peter. 2002. Animal liberation. 2d ed. New York: New York Review of Books.

    The highly influential original contemporary exposition of animal rights from a utilitarian perspective. This seminal work began the modern-day animal rights movement. Originally published in 1975.

  • Sunstein, Cass R., and Martha C. Nussbaum, eds. 2004. Animal rights: Current debates and new directions. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    An excellent collection of current essays (a few of which are reprints) from animal welfarists, anticruelty advocates, utilitarians, and more radical/progressive perspectives suggesting autonomy rights as well as the right to sue on behalf of animals. Also includes essays that argue against animal rights.

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