About Lucy’s Project
Lucy’s Project is a harm prevention charity that is focussed on addressing domestic and family violence (DFV) in Australia. We seek to facilitate women and children’s safety by reducing barriers to support and creating collaborative practices between human and animal services. Our work is in what we call the three A’s:
- Advocacy – amplifying the voices of people experiencing DFV where an animal is involved in the nexus of abuse.
- Awareness – Improving knowledge of animal abuse as a risk factor for human safety within the DFV sector, animal service sector, government, and among the general public to increase focus and provisions for establishing pathways to safety for victim-survivors with animals.
- Action – maintaining a network of support through working directly with organisations to upskill, build capacity, and provide resources to remove systemic roadblocks to safety. This includes concurrent crises safety planning – where DFV occurs during a natural disaster/pandemic/other social disruption and an animal is present.
Lucy’s Project is based in Lismore, New South Wales, and run by a team of volunteers. This includes our experienced board members who have expertise in animal abuse in the context of DFV.
Lucy’s Project recognises that animal abuse in domestic and family violence situations is common, traumatising, and a risk factor for the most severe kinds of abuse. It is also a crime in and of itself. Including animals in our domestic and family violence conversations and practice saves human and nonhuman lives.
We advocate for human and animal victim-survivors because we know that when an animal is at risk of abuse, there is a human at risk of abuse.
Domestic Violence and the human/ animal connection
Australia has one of the highest rates of animal ownership in the world. Sadly, we also have one of the highest rates of domestic and family violence and abuse (DFVA). This means that many companion animals also become victims when a family is subjected to abuse. For many people, leaving an animal behind to an uncertain fate is inconceivable. Many victim-survivors report that they delayed leaving a violent home, or returned to a violent home, because there was nowhere safe to care for the animal. As N Taylor and H Fraser explain, for many people who have experienced domestic and family violence, the loving relationship they share with an animal can provide victim-survivors with “the will to live, eat, sleep and keep caring for others, and in the process, maintain the will to rebuild their lives.”* An animal is often the only comfort, defender or friend a victim-survivor has.
For many victim-survivors, talking about the abuse and disclosing what’s going on can be difficult. Often, the only insight we may have that there is abuse occurring in a home is when vets notice signs of animal abuse, or when children report family pets being killed or harmed (The Link Coalition). For this reason, Lucy’s Project works closely with vets to help support both the animals and people who may be in need of protection, and for whom the vet may be the only person able to link victim-survivors with domestic violence support services.
Lucy’s Project is deeply concerned that animal cruelty can be a powerful indicator of an at-risk family. This is an under researched area of domestic violence and we strongly advocate for and support further studies into the link between domestic violence and animal cruelty in a quest to save human and animal lives.
When we fail to address animal cruelty, we are failing to address human need too.
* N.Taylor and H.Fraser, Companion Animals and Domestic Violence, Rescuing You, Rescuing Me, Palgrave, 2019, 4.
When animals are victims, humans are victims
When an animal is being abused in the home, there are often humans at risk in the home. Witnessing animal abuse is distressing, and some perpetrators will harm an animal as a way to punish, threaten, or control a human victim-survivor. A companion animal being abused in a home is a powerful red flag that no one is safe in that home. No happy home involves animal abuse.
What if police officers are more at risk during a domestic violence call out if there is a history of animal cruelty and they have no knowledge of it? What if a history of violence toward animals is an indicator of an increased likelihood that a perpetrator will go on to murder a human victim? These questions are under researched, but US studies suggest that in fact this could well be the case and further research here in Australia is vital.
A trip to the vet, where the vet notices that the animal has a non-accidental injury, might be the only time the human victim-survivor has a chance to speak with someone who is aware of the abuse and is able to provide support and help. We are proud to work with our veterinary partners and respect that taking animal cruelty seriously can save human lives.
All species are susceptible to domestic and family violence and abuse. We must protect all species from violence because violence is never ok.
Protecting animals to protect children
From birth, children are presented with animals or representations of animals as a form of soothing comfort, companionship, or as a relatable friendly face. Teddy bears, cartoon animals, the Easter Bunny – to name but a few – are central to the imagination and creative world of a child. Animals play an important role in the lives of children.
For many children experiencing domestic and family violence, the family pet can be one of their primary means of comfort and support. Animals can be a source of security for a child in a turbulent home. (Taylor and Fraser 2019)
Many children who witness an animal subjected to domestic and family violence are at risk of becoming perpetrators of abuse themselves, with some studies suggesting they are at higher risk of committing future criminality (Becker and French, 2004).
For children, escaping crisis with the family pet can ensure continuity in their source of comfort, security, and enjoyment of life during a time of great uncertainty, fear and change.
To protect children from domestic violence, we must also protect the animals so central to their sense of wellbeing.