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What is zoosadism?
Zoosadism is defined as an individual experiencing sexual pleasure from causing pain or suffering to animals (MediLexicon, 2006). Zoosadism is often confused with “zoophilia”, although the two words are slightly different. Zoophilia is a broader term, used to describe a person’s sexual preference for animals or emotional involvement with an animal in addition to the sexual activity (Beetz, 2010). Zoosadism is a more specific type of zoophilia, focusing specifically on the sexual gratification from the cruelty to animals.
There have been many documented cases of zoosadism; each of them can vary quite drastically. Zoosadists may engage in sexual acts with many different types of animals, and each instance can result in various types of injury to the animal. In a study conducted by Andrea Beetz, Beets investigated zoosadism, particularly pertaining to the sexual abuse of poultry and rabbits. Her research found that “the combination of penetrating and strangling the animal or breaking its neck is sexually stimulating to the zoosadist, psychologically as well as mechanically due to the spasms of the dying animal” (Beetz, 2010).
Symptoms of Zoosadism
A zoosadist may exhibit the following symptoms:
Depictions of zoosadism have been common in art for centuries
Sexual fantasies about cruelty towards animals
Obsessive thoughts pertaining to causing pain or suffering to animals
Repeated sexual urges to cause suffering to animals
Sexual pleasure derived from cruelty towards animals (Associated Content, 2010).
Prevalence of Zoosadism
There is little data on the prevalence of zoosadism, as little research has been done on this specific topic alone. However, there is data on the incidence of zoophilia, which encompasses zoosadism as well as many other sexual preferences for animals. The prevalence of sexual contact between men and women and animals is 8% and 1.5% respectively. Sexual attraction towards animals was found most commonly in the rural population, and was more common among individuals with a lower educational status. The average age of onset of zoophilia is approximately at 17.4 years (Laws, 2008).
Research has found that there are many reasons people may engage in zoosadism. In a survey of 93 zoophilic people, many of the participants reported that they chose to engage in such acts because they had a sexual orientation towards animals, sexual fantasies about animals, or because they wanted to express love/affection to an animal. The participants also mentioned that the ease and flexibility of the involvement with the animal was another key factor in motivating them to engage in zoophilia. When asked why the participants interest in animals began or continued, the most common response was that sex with animals was pleasurable and that they desired affection (Laws, 2008).
Trends in Zoosadism
It has been found through research that there is a definite link between those that exhibit zoosadistic signs as a child, and sadistic (defined as “sexual pleasure from inflicting pain and killing in an interpersonal sexual context”) behavior later on in adulthood. In a survey of
psychiatric patients who had previously been found to repeatedly torture dogs and cats, researchers discovered that all of the patients had high levels of aggression toward people as well. According to PETA.org, a police study in Australia revealed that “100 percent of sexual homicide offenders examined had a history of animal cruelty” (PETA, 2011).
Cruelty towards animals has been found to be a common trait found in the records of murderers and serial rapists. Robert K. Kessler, a serial killer profiler, found that many murderers begin by torturing or killing animals as children (PETA, 2011). Many of the most infamous serial killers in American history had documented occurrences of zoosadistic behavior in their youth (Associated Content, 2010). Below is a list of some of the most well-known killers that exhibited zoosadistic traits as a child:
Jeffrey Dahmer: impaled frogs, cats, and dogs’ heads on sticks
Jeffrey Dahmer engaged in zoosadism as a child
Dennis Rader: wrote an account of his childhood, admitting he hanged a dog and a cat as a child
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (Columbine High School shooters): frequently bragged to their classmates about mutilating animals
Albert DeSalvo (the “Boston Strangler”): admitted that as a child he would trap dogs and cats and shoot arrows at them
Lee Boyd Malvo: shot marbles from a slingshot at cats at age 14 (PETA, 2011)
Earl Kenneth Shriner: well-known in his neighborhood for putting firecrackers in dogs’ rectums and stringing up cats, he later raped, stabbed and mutilated a 7-year-old boy (Pet-Abuse.com, 2011).
Laws about Zoosadism
There currently are no federal laws prohibiting zoosadism. However, approximately 30 states currently have laws that forbid sexual contact between humans and animals. Sexual contact with animals is considered a felony in the following states: Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia and Washington. The same acts are currently considered misdemeanors in the following states: Arkansas, California, Iowa, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin (Wisch, 2010).
Associated Content. (2010). Zoosadism: Getting Sexual Pleasure from Hurting Animals. Retrieved April 10, 2011 from
Beetz, A. M. (2010).
The international handbook of animal abuse and cruelty: Theory, research, and application.
United States of America: Purdue University.
Laws, D. R. & O’Donohue, W.T. (2008).
Sexual deviance: Theory, assessment, and treatment.
New York: The Guiford Press.
MediLexicon. (2006). Definiton: Zoosadism. Retrieved April 7, 2011 from
Pet-Abuse.com. (2011). Cruelty Connections. Retrieved April 7, 2011 from
PETA. (2011). Animal Abuse and Human Abuse: Partners in Crime. Retrieved April 7, 2011 from
Wisch, R.F. (2010). Overview of State Bestiality Laws. Retrieved April 10, 2011 from
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