Crimes Against Nature

Posted by Dana Campbell, ALDF Attorney on October 28, 2009

Mention the word “bestiality” and you’ll likely elicit one of two responses: kindergartner-like snickering, or horror. I know, because I’ve done it a lot (mentioned the word, not done the deed). In my animal law speeches to lawyers and others, they are mostly horrified at the thought and mention of humans having sexual contact with animals; most had never had reason to consider it before I came along. Why am I talking about it? Because of ALDF’s efforts to raise awareness of the problem so we can attack it with criminal consequences.

Our awareness-raising efforts were recently aided by two news stories that have apparently attracted lots of gaping attention: one from New Jersey in which a judge dropped animal cruelty charges against a former cop charged with molesting cows, ruling there was insufficient evidence they were tormented. New Jersey has no separate, stand-alone criminal law prohibiting bestiality.

In the second news story, which was reportedly carried even in the Australian media, two men and a woman in Tennessee are charged with performing sex acts with horses and a dog, and police are looking into whether money was exchanged for the ability to have sexual access to the animals.

By the way, these defendants all have two things in common: one is that they’ve also hurt others in the past – the former cop in New Jersey is also charged with molesting three girls, and one of the Tennessee defendants became infamous years ago for molesting horses in Washington state in a case in which his pal died from internal injuries caused by the bestiality acts. The other commonality is that video of the acts became the defendants’ undoing.

At the beginning of this decade, ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program became aware of the problems that prosecutors were having in trying to convict persons who sexually assaulted animals. They told us stories of family members and farm owners who were appalled to catch relatives in the act of assaulting the family puppy or invaders to their farm assaulting their animal friends in nighttime barn trysts captured on hidden video after suspicions were raised. The local prosecutors found they were unable to do anything legally because their state bestiality laws were tossed out decades earlier when many states updated their criminal sex offense laws to also get rid of sodomy, adultery, and other seemingly outdated sex laws.

Some prosecutors tried to prosecute the abusers under their state’s existing animal cruelty laws, but that often proved impossible, as evidenced by the New Jersey case above. ALDF then endeavored to draft a model “sexual assault of an animal” law and get it passed wherever necessary, starting in Oregon in 2001. Since then we’ve been fairly successful (really, who’s gonna stand up and object to passing such a law?) but our work continues. If you are interested in knowing more about this problem, what ALDF is doing in this area of the law and how you can help, see our new online resource, "The Crime of Bestiality/Zoophilia: Sexual Assault of an Animal."

Now, for those of us saddled with more juvenile sensibilities, no more snickering!