The Case for Seeing Animals As Rape Victims
An Animal Rights Article from


Amanda Houdeschell,
July 2018

So here's a question to all those of you who changed your status to #MeToo - How many of you are vegans? And those of you who are not, how fair is it to raise your voice against atrocities on yourself or your kind, but endorse and encourage the same on the female of other species? Don't get me wrong, I do not tolerate physical or sexual abuse, I truly empathise, am ashamed and disgusted, just that I apply it to all.

milking humans
From Pink's "Raise Your Glass" video

And How to Respectfully Advocate for All...

As I write this, and as you read this, my wish is for us all to remember that we have never experienced non-humanness. I write as a rape survivor who is doing her best to amplify the voices of nonhuman rape victims. One of the most heart-wrenching experiences for me post-trauma, is people telling me that what happened to me isn’t really rape. With the knowledge that all I can do is make assumptions about certain nonhuman interests, I believe that to include animals as victims of sexual trauma is the only way to do their experiences justice.

Below are some of the most common justifications for not including animals as rape victims, and why I believe these to be nothing more than speciesist deflections of addressing the problem at hand.

“Farmers do not think of breeding as a form of abuse.”

Abusers need not think of themselves as abusers in order for their actions to be viewed as ubiquitously wrong. Studies show that men still don’t know what consent is, but that does not excuse unwanted sexual advances. Those in positions of power — whether they be men, straight people, whites, or humans — have a responsibility to research how to appropriately interact with their marginalized counterparts.

This is because simply not knowing is not a valid excuse. In Coming to Understand: Orgasm and the Epistemology of Ignorance, Nancy Tuana states that ignorance “should not be theorized as a simple omission or gap but is, in many cases, an active production. Ignorance is frequently constructed and actively preserved, and is linked to issues of cognitive authority, doubt, trust, silencing, and uncertainty.” She goes on to say, “It is important to be aware of how often oppression works through and is shadowed by ignorance.”

Men do not just accidentally grow up never having been taught about consent. Farmers don’t just happen to be unaware of the suffering they are causing. There are systems in place — patriarchy and human supremacy, respectively — that cause this knowledge to be swept under the rug and not be a priority. Ignorance of respectful relationships between men and women, humans and animals, has been constructed in order to keep women and animals as subordinates to the human supremacist patriarchy.

This is also giving abusers the benefit of the doubt, assuming that none of them are in any way aware of the consequences of their actions. While this may be the case in many circumstances, it is worth mentioning that there are animal exploiters who are completely aware of the harm they are causing, and do not care. Psychologist Harry Harlow named the contraption he used to force female monkeys to mate the “rape rack.” In the same manner, Harlow created what he called the “pit of despair,” a place of complete social isolation for baby monkeys.

laboratory monkeys
Mother monkeys, victims of maternal deprivation experiments at NIH. Source: PETA - NIH National Institutes of Health.

“The rape comparison is disrespectful to survivors.”

This assertion assumes that animals are not included in the category of survivors, but we'll put that aside for a moment and read this as being disrespectful to human survivors. As could probably be predicted by the huge number of survivors, we are an extremely diverse group of people. People of all ages, genders, races, political affiliations, belief systems, countries of origin, etc are victims of rape. While certain generalizations to help us recover from trauma might be appropriate, expecting that all of us will find the same things offensive disregards our individuality. There are many vegan women who find speaking out about nonhuman rape to be important, and even empowering, work.

Furthermore, let us abolish the word “comparison” from this conversation. Anti-speciesist feminists are not comparing the experiences of animals to our own experiences. We are extending the definition of rape to include people of all species. The definition of rape is constantly being expanded in order to encompass victims who have been silenced: wives raped by their husbands, male victims, and victims who were coerced, to name a few. It is healthy and vital that social justice advocates, lawmakers, and the general public consistently analyze their inclusivity and make changes accordingly.

“Rape is about power and control while dairy is about profit.”

What is incredibly disturbing about this statement is the pronouncement that profit is somehow not a form of power. Have we become so insistent on the exclusion of animals that we have forgotten all of the human victims of rape for profit? Is sex trafficking not a form of rape? The same people who are outraged by the institutionalized exploitation of women in The Handmaid’s Tale and Mad Max: Fury Road — stories that depict women kept as breeders — maintain that breeding animals is not a form of rape.

Plenty of nonvegans believe that bestiality — when defined as a human having sex with a dog or a horse or other more admired animals — is rape. The discussion is pretty clear-cut: Animals cannot consent to humans. It’s not a hot button issue; even if someone is uncomfortable with using the word rape, they seem to still understand that it is a violation of a sexual nature.

Why, then, do even the most outspoken ethical vegans recoil at identifying the victims of industrial sexual violence? Dogs in puppy mills and cows on dairy farms are abused by a system that profits off of their sexual exploitation, but they are ignored as fellow victims far more vehemently than individuals who suffer rape from one single human.


“Animals do not suffer from PTSD.”

This is simply factually incorrect. Scientists have observed evidence of animals experiencing the effects of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Eslom the chimpanzee lost his mother and suffered a serious physical injury. Afterwards, he disappeared and cut himself off from his community. “When he returned, according to case reports, he was different: quick to anger, easily irritated, taking an unusually long time to calm down. He was more fearful, had a harder time sleeping. He pulled away from his old friends.”

Eslom’s story is not a rare case, either. From dogs who have been shot by police, to orangutans who have been kidnapped and sold into sex slavery, to cats who have survived bombings, there are dozens and dozens of accounts of nonhuman animals struggling to recover from traumatic events.

Cat Lola
Lola, a nonhuman victim of PTSD

But while we have debunked this speciesist myth, it is important to address that this assertion, with its intent to mock nonhuman abilities, is problematic for humans too. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, around 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women will experience some kind of traumatic event over the course of their lifetimes, but just four percent and ten percent, respectively, will ever meet the threshold for PTSD. Claiming that one must suffer from PTSD or other mental illness in order to be taken seriously as a victim of trauma belittles the experiences of victims who do not respond in such a way. Violation of one’s body is real, whether or not it has lasting harmful effects on the survivor.

“Animal cognition is not on par with human cognition.”

This is just… so fucking ableist. Humans with intellectual disabilities are seven times more likely to be victims of sexual assault than those without disabilities. Humans who do not experience the world in the same way that the neurotypical do are already being taken advantage of at horrifyingly high rates. Why, then, would we even allude to the issue of sexual assault as being one that is in any way related to cognition? As long as a being is sentient, their bodies should be respected.

“#MeToo for animals is co-opting another movement.”

#MeToo intersects with every other human movement. Someone’s class, race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion, and so on all affect their experience as a survivor of sexual harassment. So too does someone’s species.

Now that we have accepted that not all #MeToo stories are the same, is it so hard to open our eyes to nonhumans as victims? If the goal is to be inclusive of everyone who is a victim of sexual violence, then this isn’t co-opting, it’s reality.

feminist march

How to Show Solidarity with Every Victim

While bringing animals into #MeToo isn’t inherently co-opting, there are certainly perpetrators in the animal rights movement who are part of the reason we are having this conversation in the first place. Especially if you are a man (although people of all genders fall into these traps), read below for how to talk about interspecies sexual violence without co-opting human struggles.

1. Step up, step back. Stand up for rape victims, both human and nonhuman. But step back and make space for those who relate to these issues the most and who are already marginalized enough by the mainstream. Whenever the option is presented to you, amplify the voices of women — and not just white, cis, straight women — making these connections rather than taking up space for yourself.

2. See victims as people, not statistics. When the only dialogue that allies know how to have surrounding this subject is that of graphic imagery and scare tactics, the individuality of those suffering is erased. Below is an example. Instead, tell their stories. Not only is this more respectful, it’s also proven to be more effective advocacy. And please stop relying so heavily on pictures of animals' exploited body parts that don't even show their faces. Very rarely do we frame human survivors in such a manner. If we want others to see animals as more than their bodies, we have to exhibit them in a way that reflects this.


MeToo for animals

3. It is not men’s place to tell women how to end rape culture. There are so many anti-speciesist women who can reach out to feminists about total liberation. Men targeting sexual assault survivors during #MeToo, demanding that they be vegan, was a typical example of men inserting themselves where they don’t belong. Women are tired of being talked down to by men, having them mansplain our experiences. Again, this is also relevant to the number of nonvegan women who are likely to listen to you.

4. Acknowledge when you’re in the wrong. Allies make mistakes; it happens. What’s important is to actively listen to those who are educating you and make the necessary changes. Try to see your advocacy from non-male and non-human perspectives and analyze whether everything is being done to ensure the highest level of consideration.

concent is clear

5. Take an unapologetic stance on total liberation. I cannot take men seriously when they claim to care about women’s issues but then never speak on feminism except when it’s to bash women for not being vegan. When this happens, all I see is men taking advantage of an opportunity to show their contempt for women. Show up for women when there’s a vegan man being misogynistic. Call out rape culture within the animal rights movement and hold men accountable for the culture they are perpetuating.

6. People do not owe you a disclosure of their traumatic history. This is a fairly new conclusion of mine, inspired by posts by Christopher Sebastian and conversations with fellow vegan women. I've decided to include this here after two separate public encounters of people demanding that my usage of the word "rape" was disrespectful to survivors. These confrontations are hurtful because they assume that I am not a survivor, or that my experience does not matter as much as someone who is personally hurt by the usage. In these situations I used to rely on my identity as a survivor to emphasize my point, but no longer will I put myself through living my rapes in order to justify my acknowledgement of nonhuman rape survivors. Disclosure culture can lead us into terrible interactions that make it seem as if getting raped is some sort of certification to be allowed to talk about the realities of animal agriculture. I believe that anyone--rape survivor or not--can articulate what is happening to animals in the context of rape culture, but I also strongly feel that everyone--rape survivor or not--should do so in a respectful way, following the tips I've outlined above. This may be difficult to navigate at first, but cross-species consideration is worth it.

What are you going to do to help end the commodification and exploitation of people’s bodies? Will you stand up to humans who belittle the experiences of animals, and organizations that belittle the experiences of women? Right now there is a hen whose children are being taken away from her before they are even born. There is a cow who is impregnated again and again until she is seen as useless and is slaughtered. They are fellow victims of patriarchy, and they deserve nothing less than our loud, fierce solidarity.

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