A new report sheds light on animal cruelty perpetrators and their punishment

This report was created in response to the growing concern of the community about animal cruelty offenders’ sentences. Significant media attention has been given to several cases. The report also aimed to provide evidence for the government as it revamped Victoria’s animal abuse legislation in 2019. described it as “outdated” back in 2018.

What is animal cruelty?

The report reveals that the majority of animal cruelty crimes in Victoria are not committed with malice or deliberate cruelty (such as beating or torturing a pet).

Animal cruelty in Victoria that results in sentences is primarily the result of neglecting an animal, including failing to give it enough food, water, shelter, or veterinary care. This type of crime accounted for at least half of all animal abuse offenses in Victoria between 2008 and 2017, but it was probably closer to three-quarters.

The RSPCA Victoria’s Annual Report noted that the majority of reports received were due to ignorance or inability rather than malicious intent.

Who is responsible for these crimes?

In Victoria, at least 998 animal cruelty offenders have been sentenced between 2008 and 2017. This is about 100 offenders per year. Nearly three-quarters of the offenders were men, while a quarter of them were women. Corporations accounted for less than 1% of the total.

Sentencing Advisory Council of Victoria

This is slightly lower than the rate of men being sentenced in Victoria for all crimes. Victorian courts sentenced more than 100,000 cases in the last financial year. In those cases, four out of five offenders (79%) were men.

There was, however, a subgroup of animal abuse offenders who were more likely to be men. These offenders had cases flagged as family violence. In 2016 and 2017, out of 231 animal abuse cases sentenced, 15% were flagged for family violence (35 instances). Of the 35 criminals, 33 of them were men.

Who is responsible for animal cruelty?

Victoria Police and the Office of Public Prosecutions prosecute the majority of crimes. Animal cruelty offenses are prosecuted by local councils as well as two other government departments, RSPCA Victoria and the Office of Public Prosecutions.

RSPCA Victoria, in fact, is one of only a few non-government organizations with the authority to prosecute criminal offenses. In the last ten years, it was responsible for prosecuting over half of all cases of animal cruelty in Victoria.

Sentencing Advisory Council of Victoria

Victoria Police brought the second most cases to court. Animal cruelty is usually discovered by police when neighbours report what they believe to be animal cruelty or when officers are entering a home for another reason, such as performing a search warrant or responding to reports of family violence.

How many animal abuse crimes were there?

In Victoria, nearly 3,000 animal cruelty charges were sentenced between 2008 and 2017. This does not include all the animal cruelty committed in Victoria during these ten years. Many cases of animal abuse are never reported or investigated because victims cannot speak up for themselves.

Many animal cruelty complaints do not result in any punishment. Between 2011 and 2017, 79,00 complaints of animal abuse were made to various prosecuting authorities. Just over 6,000 criminal charges were laid as a result of these complaints, and nearly 2,800 offenses were sentenced.

Sentencing Advisory Council of Victoria

This disparity in the number of charges and complaints is not without reason. Many complaints of animal abuse are not actually cruelty. For example, a neighbor complained that a dog was left in the backyard for the day.

But more importantly, the legislation that these agencies enforce is “directed towards animal welfare, rather than enforcement.” Criminal justice is only a last resort. It may not always be the best way to ensure animal welfare.

What was the punishment for animal cruelty?

60 % of the 3,000 charges sentenced resulted in fines, and 4% were punished with a prison term. The average penalty per case was $1,400. The average sentence was three months.

Sentencing Advisory Council of Victoria

Further consideration is needed regarding the high number of animal cruelty fines. The Sentencing Council has found in its prior research that 40 percent of Victoria’s penalties are not paid. But, more importantly, when the offender is an agricultural farmer who has struggled financially and is unable to feed, water, or medicate his livestock, it seems inappropriate for him to be burdened with a financial penalty. If the offender has committed more deliberate acts, then rehabilitation may be needed.

In Victoria, the courts have a choice when sentencing animal abusers. This is known as a “control order.” It is a court order that prohibits or limits the ability of an offender to be in charge or own animals. The order can also include conditions for the offender to be able to own animals. As an example a farmer was required to attend a course on sheep management and pay a vet for regular inspections of any livestock he cared for.

A control order was issued in only 20% of cases of animal cruelty, according to the council. This rate was especially low (less than 1%) in cases prosecuted through Victoria Police. When the council spoke with prosecutors who handle animal cruelty cases, they told them that the best outcome for criminal proceedings in these cases is often a control order.

It is unclear, however, whether the agencies would have sufficient resources to monitor more control orders. This would require a great deal of additional work and help.

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