Sexual Abuse of Females: The Animal Connection
An Animal Rights Article from


Deborah Tanzer, Ph.D.
March 2018

Time for our norms, institutions and values to change, time to burythe outmoded historical paradigms which have unscientifically createdhierarchy among human groups and between humans and animals, attempting thereby to justify exploitation and abuse by those wielding power.

As an animal rights activist and a longtime scholar of sexism and gender issues, while reading the recent spate of articles about the sexual abuse of females by males in positions of power, I have been struck by the clear similarities to the abuse of animals by humans.

Let me be clear. I am not speaking here about situations where someone beats a dog or kills a cat, or other horrific instances of abuse and torture of individual animals. I am talking about the systemic and systematic abuse of animals that is practiced, institutionalized, and normalized by all human cultures throughout time, where humans are in a position of greater power than the animals. Just as human males in positions of power feel free to abuse females they desire, so too do we humans feel free to do the same to animals.

The common dimension is a concept of property, which explicitly or implicitly has been used throughout history to justify the abuse of human females, and which similarly has normalized, driven, and justified human treatment of animals across all centuries and societies. In both cases, the victims, deemed property, become resources or objects to fulfill the desires of those in power. Thankfully, legal views of women as chattel have eroded in many places, although implicit and more subtle views of them as property (private if not public), as “available” resources, persist today still. But for animals there has been virtually no change at all, legally or otherwise. Legally they remain our property, things or objects to be used and exploited in any way we wish. Thus as we see with human females still,concepts of property and ownership have spawned the justification for their abuse by people in positions of greater power—males in the case of human females, all humans in the case of animals.

Thus both groups are treated as “available” resources. As beings to be “taken” and used as the perpetrators see fit. For human females, this may include horrific sexual abuse, for animals “anything goes” and there is virtually no limit to how we humans may use animals and what we may do to them. We eat their flesh, we steal their eggs and the milk intended for their own babies, we torture and kill them so we may tear away and wear their skin and fur. We brutally separate mothers and babies, we rip families apart. We demean and torture animals so they can perform for our “entertainment,” we perform unspeakable “experiments” on them.

All of this because, like the human victims of sexual abuse, the animals are “ours” for the taking, there to violate, to commit terrible acts upon by those in power. And we do, ruthlessly. In the words of Nobel prize winning author J.M. Coetzee, a dedicated animal advocate, human treatment of animals is ”a crime of stupefying proportions.” And Nobel prize winning writer Isaac Bashevis Singer, also a resolute animal advocate, wrote, "In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka."

Human treatment of animals, these normalized actions on our part, gives the lie to the morality we profess to, and bespeaks deep pathology in the human psyche. To abuse, exploit, torture and kill other beings, living and sentient, because we are in a position of dominance and greater power is something we consider wrong. To then split and compartmentalize this ethic—culturally and individually—and apply it solely to humans but not animals not only contradicts our professed values and morality, but in so doing also creates psychologically dangerous and destructive conflicts within the human psyche and soul. Like our animal victims, we too are damaged and suffer from what we have wrought, from the atrocities we inflict on them.

It is time for this to stop. Time for our norms, institutions and values to change, time to bury the outmoded historical paradigms which have unscientifically created hierarchy among human groups and between humans and animals, attempting thereby to justify exploitation and abuse by those wielding power. Time to change oppressive ideologies and institutions. Time for humans to end our psychological denial, reintegrate our morality, and heal our souls. To become the ethical beings we profess to be—so that just as we so correctly condemn the sexual abuse of human females, so too will we condemn, renounce, and end our exploitation and abuse of animals.

Deborah Tanzer, Ph.D, is a psychologist and psychoanalyst in New York City. She is writing a book about the psychological connections between human violence, gender issues, and human treatment of animals.

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