Manchester Metropolitan University, England
•* Summary: Drawing on relevant literature and research findings, this article questions current assumptions relating to children who sometimes harm animals. The issue was raised in this journal by Bell (2001) who discussed the arguments that individuals who are cruel to animals are more likely to be aggressive towards their partners and children (Arkow, 1995; Ascione, 1996; Hutton, 1983); that children who have been the victims of violence are likely to harm animals, and more likely to be aggressive towards humans later in life (Kellert and Felthouse, 1985; Ressler et al., 1988). These proposed links or cycles of domestic abuse suggest that children who witness such violence later harm animals and eventually humans. The weakest family member usually becomes the ultimate target or scapegoat (O’Hagan and Smith, 1993). The assumption is that victims become perpetrators and are thus predictable and appropriate targets for prior diagnosis.
•* Findings: These arguments are not easy, but have the potential to prompt moral panic, based in part on journalists’ contributions, which rely on inappropriate simplification of selected academic work that supports these links or cycles. Such an over-simplified version can develop an energy of its own or a quasi-autonomous status (Foucault, 1969) that permeates public consciousness and professional practice.
•* Applications: The article questions this process and the coherence of the arguments, and identifies some limitations for social work practice arising from this problematic and pervasive approach.
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