RSPCA NSW reports 108 per cent increase in DV victims accessing help for pets when escaping perpetrators

The number of victims of domestic violence seeking help with pets after fleeing their perpetrators has more than doubled, but the RSPCA is only able to help around a quarter of those seeking help.

In the first five months of 2024, the RSPCA NSW Domestic Violence Program helped 148 people and 248 animals, the highest ever. This was a 108% increase in the number of people helped since the previous year.

The program temporarily returns the pet to a shelter or foster family while the victim, usually a woman, finds another place to live. Veterinary services are also provided for the pet and financial services to help with transportation costs.

In cases where RSPCA NSW is unable to help, it will then try to support the owner and pet by making referrals to other agencies or by providing free food and resources to the person’s family or friend to care for the pet on a short-term basis.

RSPCA NSW general manager of community and engagement Ursula McGeowan said pets were staying in care longer due to the state’s tenancy crisis and a sharp drop in rental stock was making it harder for applicants with pets to secure a home.

“Due to challenges with the lease restriction, we have to keep the animals (that are in the domestic violence program) longer,” she said.

“All these factors are connected. If a woman is looking for somewhere else to live, the landlord usually chooses an applicant who doesn’t have a dog.”

In situations involving domestic violence and abuse, Ms McGeowan said pet abuse was one way perpetrators could intimidate and coerce victims.

Red flags can be seen as threats of violence or threats to kill animals to force the victim to return to the family home, or to appease the perpetrator.

Contrary figures show that pet abuse occurs in around 70 per cent of domestic violence incidents, and a 2023 RSPCA report also found that one in three women reported delaying fleeing domestic violence because of fear for their pet’s welfare .

Financial abuse can also occur, especially if the victim-survivor’s financial independence has been limited.

“A victim may not be able to provide flea or tick medication or pay for surgery to repair a broken leg, which can result in economic euthanasia,” McGeowan said.

“It’s a threat that can be used to keep the victim from getting money for care, maybe the only support mechanism in their life, because we know that victims are often isolated.”

Harm to pets becomes a “red flag” for DV

The alarming statistics released by the RSPCA come as the NSW Parliament is set to debate major domestic violence bail reform on Tuesday.

While it will focus on eliminating the presumption of bail for people accused of serious domestic violence offenses and will require ankle monitoring for offenders released on bail, it will also require judges and magistrates to consider new risk factors for abuse in family when dealing with bail for domestic violence offences. .

This includes “red flags” such as behavior that results in death or injury to the animal, and behavior that is intimidating, verbally abusive, sexually abusive, coercive and violent.

Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse Prevention Minister Jodie Harrison acknowledged the link between pet abuse and intimate partner abuse.

She said the government is also taking extra steps to ensure women’s shelters are pet-friendly.

In addition, RSPCA NSW has worked with seven shelters to introduce models that support residents with pets, with four more in the pipeline.

“Pets are often part of the family. Perpetrators are known to be able to force a victim to stay or return to an abusive home by threatening or abusing the family pet.

“Existing women’s shelters will provide for animals where possible and safe, taking into account the needs of the women and children housed in the service.”

While Animal Justice MP Emma Hurst has welcomed bail reform, she says more can be done, highlighting the issue of animal custody orders during the ADVO application process, which gives custody of a pet to a victim-survivor and removes them from potential the perpetrator.

Ms Hurst has also criticized the Government for shelving a campaign promise to make it harder for landlords to refuse pets.

“The number of people who are left in dangerous situations because they cannot get access to safe or appropriate accommodation with their animals is staggering,” she said.

“Releasing an animal could mean a death sentence or lead to continued abuse of a beloved animal, as we know that animals are often used as a form of coercive control.”

The reforms have yet to be introduced in Parliament and are still being consulted by Labour’s new rents commissioner Trina Jones and fall under the portfolio of NSW Minister for Better Law and Fair Trading Anoulack Chanthivong.

Ms Hurst says the delay is “simply unacceptable”.

“We must take violence against animals seriously. We know that people who are violent are violent to all kinds,” she said.

“The failure of Minister Chanthivong to pass this legislation has put many people in extremely dangerous situations. The delay is simply unacceptable.”

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