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Sex with Animals: Should CA Bestiality Law be Changed?

ANIMAL WATCH- (WARNING: Content of this article may disturb some readers.) Sex with animals is not a common or popular topic of conversation, unless there is a recent arrest or conviction making headlines, or you are into bestiality. The thought of someone having sex with the family dog or any other animal is repugnant to most civilized sensibility and as enraging to many as the rape of a child. Experts confirm that it should be. 

Yet, for all of the moral indignation and disdain that erupts from a report of human-animal sex/abuse (which can include cats, rabbits, birds, chickens, dogs, horses, sheep and other farm animals, wildlife or even involve reptiles, "pocket pets," and other small animals), entirely new markets for deviant sex have been opened by the internet; and bestiality and zoophilia are reportedly flourishing. 

“A common sexual theme found in pornography is bestiality, sex with animals," write Holmes & Holmes, in Sex Crimes: Patterns & Behavior.  “There is a darker side to bestiality. In the work that we have done with serial killers, we have noted that several had a background of cruelty to animals.” 

The number of arrests in 2014 for animal sex abuse and exploitation in the U.S. was more than double the total number in the 30 years between 1970 and 2000, according to US News.  

In November 2016, ABC10 News reported, Abused Stockton dogs believed to be rented for sex, Rescuers said that veterinary examinations showed two of the dogs had severe damage and had been sexually abused, including the use of foreign objects. Neighbors and people in the community said that “the dogs were being rented for sex." The news station confirmed that, “the vet hospital was able to show us medical records and graphic photos of the assaults.” 

CURRENT CA BESTIALITY LAW 

Current California law, Cal. Penal Code § 286.5 SUMMARY reads: “This California law provides that any person who sexually assaults any animal for the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of the person is guilty of a misdemeanor.” 

Standard California misdemeanors are offenses that are punishable by a maximum six-month county jail sentence and a maximum $1,000 fine. (See Shouse CA Law.) However, with CA’s penchant for quick release of offenders, a perpetrator could conceivably be discharged within hours. 

The charge can be expanded to include violation of Cal. Penal Code § 597 Animal Cruelty if the animal is diagnosed by a veterinarian to have endured physical harm and/or suffering. But, experts say, often, if the animal is a large dog or a farm animal, or if there has been time for wounds to heal, there may be not sufficient visible evidence to prove physical damage. That doesn’t mean it did not happen or that the animal has not or is not suffering. 

Some believe this law should go farther, for a variety of reasons. For instance, at the beginning of the current legislative year, a leading animal-protection organization apologized for the necessity to mention “an awful topic,” in an e-mail, but explained it had been alerted to a possible deficiency in the current law prohibiting bestiality. 

The e-mail said that, according to several members involved in law enforcement, a deficiency in the wording of PC 286.5 has been a barrier to prosecution in some cases because, “…this does not include sexual assault that is done for the sexual arousal/gratification of the animal.” 

My first reaction was that I misread the message. I couldn’t envision someone rolling over and asking an animal they just violated, "So, was that good for you?"  Or, are they be insinuating the animal--which unequivocally has sexual urges and emotions -- “was asking for it” or “initiated intimacy? 

Now, after a little more research on justifications/excuses used by perpetrators, I wondered if assuring our state law includes wording to counteract a defense claim that the animal consented, needed or enjoyed the contact or attention would be advisable.  

WHAT IS ZOOPHILIA OR BESTIALITY? 

Zoophilia or bestiality are terms from the Greek (zṓion, "animal") and (philia, "friendship" or "love"). It is the practice of sexual activity between humans and non-human animals (bestiality), or a preference for or fixation on such practice (zoophilia), according to Wikipedia 

ZETA – Zoophiles Engagement für Toleranz und Aufklärung, a Berlin-based worldwide association, states that it seeks understanding about zoophilia and bestiality: 

We zoophiles do not want to be rubberstamped as sadists, but be seen as real people with a genuine sexual orientation (as e.g. homosexuality is) which incorporates to love an animal as one can love a human. We condemn horse ripping, the killing of dogs and similar at least as much as the next normal person. 

Another problem we are facing in the struggle for tolerance is that most people recognise animals only as asexual entities, which are not believed to particularly enjoy intercourse in general. Such a stance has been scientifically disproven long ago. We’d therefore want to battle this misconception in favour of the idea that it may be possible to be intimate with an animal without hurting it, without the need to specifically train such a performance. But don’t take just our word on this, we compiled for this reason many studies and further reading suggestions for you to form your own picture. 

CAN AN ANIMAL "CONSENT" TO SEX WITH A HUMAN? 

Peter Singer, the renown Australian moral philosopher and Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, is venerated for such quotes as, “All the arguments to prove man's superiority cannot shatter this hard fact: in suffering the animals are our equals.” In his book, Animal Liberation, he wrote, “If possessing a higher degree of intelligence does not entitle one human to use another for his or her own ends, how can it entitle humans to exploit non-humans?” 

Yet, in his 2001 article, “Heavy Petting,” Singer discusses a book by Otto Soyka, Beyond the Boundary of Morals, which concedes the futility of prohibitions against deviant acts of human sexual desire and contends that bestiality should be illegal, “…only in so far as it shows cruelty towards an animal.” 

Singer writes, “But sex with animals does not always involve cruelty.” He provides the analogy of the pet dog that may grip a human leg and vigorously rub against it. He contends that, while this may not be acceptable in public, “…in private not everyone objects to being used by her or his dog in this way, and occasionally mutually satisfying activities may develop.” 

The problem is, how can it be proven that consent was given by an animal?  Is an animal capable, under the law, of consenting?  (An attorney advises that this is probably struck down in court by the same principle as any "age-of-consent" law, which also considers "capacity" to consent.) 

Whether or not we agree with the morality of such activities, some animal behaviorists and veterinary professionals contend that there are also psychological damages, as well as physical trauma, to an animal that is subjected to penetration.  

Dr. Kersti Seksel, Registered Veterinary Specialist in Animal behavior, states in a must-read Conference Paper, “The behavioural manifestations of animal cruelty / abuse 

Sexually abused animals may present with injuries of the sexual organs, rectum or anus.

These can involve lacerations of the organs, ligatures applied to the sexual organs and may involve the use of implements (eg tampons, spoons, broom handles, knives etc.). It should also be noted that as is that case with some sexual abuse in children no obvious visible injury may be observed. 

Emotionally abused animals may show similar signs as emotionally abused children. These signs may be fearful behaviour in the presence of their owner, may cower in their presence, have anxiety disorders, present with panic attacks, show extremes in behaviour, such as being overly compliant or extremely demanding, show extreme passivity (learned helplessness), or aggression.  

It should be noted that some of these behaviours will not be obvious during a normal veterinary consultation and they may be missed unless specific questions are asked. 

IS SEX WITH ANIMALS A CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT? 

In 2012, Carlos Romero, a Florida farmhand, race-horse exerciser and groomer was caught in a barn engaging in an intimate act with his miniature donkey, Doodle, and arrested. Romero had testified that he wanted his case to go to trial and that he would fight to get Doodle back. He later accepted a plea bargain on the day jury selection was to begin. 

The agreement occurred just days after Romero’s three Assistant Public Defenders filed a motion in Marion County court, challenging the constitutionality of the charges against Romero. 

The legal trio claimed that Florida’s new anti-bestiality law, which prohibits any and all zoophilic acts, infringed on Romero's due process rights and violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by interfering with “personal liberty and autonomy when it comes to private intimate activities.” 

They claimed there was no injury to the donkey, and that prosecutors can't claim that act was non-consensual, and contended that, "The personal morals of the majority, whether based on religion or traditions, cannot be used as a reason to deprive a person of their personal liberties." 

“If the statute were to require sexual conduct with animals to be nonconsensual or to cause injury in order to be a crime, then perhaps the State would have a rational basis and legitimate State interest in enforcement,” the motion stated. 

INVESTIGATING/PROSECUTING BESTIALITY 

Detective Jeremy Hoffman, of the Fairfax County, VA., Sheriff's Office, told Bloomberg BNA, “Bestiality ‘is the single greatest predictor of people who will molest children.’” As he investigated websites dedicated to child pornography, Hoffman said he routinely came across links to bestiality websites or advertisements selling animals for sexual purposes. 

Detective Hoffman told Bloomberg he “…prefers statutes that classify bestiality as a sex crime.” He and Jenny Edwards, a criminologist and independent researcher, are training law enforcement nationwide how to investigate bestiality. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation began last year to report animal cruelty offenses in its national crime statistics. Jenny Edwards says that bestiality is not easy to isolate because animals in these cases are often just removed and impounded in shelters without receiving a thorough examination by a veterinarian. 

She told US News she advises using human rape kits to determine whether the animal has been sexually assaulted. 

HOW DOES CALIFORNIA’S BESTIALITY LAW COMPARE TO OTHER STATES? 

Zoophilia and the law in the United States looks at the progress of laws prohibiting sex with animals in the United States of America: 

--As of December 2016, sex with animals is illegal in 42 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

-- The most recent states to ban it are Alaska (2010), Florida (2011), Alabama (2014),New Jersey (2015), New Hampshire (2016) and Ohio (2016).  

--In 2017, five states (Texas, Kentucky, West Virginia, Vermont and Nevada) introduced legislation to ban interspecies sex. 

--Two states, Michigan and Idaho, allow life in prison for sex with animals 

Animal Legal and Historical Center provides an updated table comparing laws and penalties for all states. It emphasizes the split between categorizing this types of crime as a misdemeanor or felony (23 misdemeanor, 19 felony) and the wide span of penalties, for example: 

In Rhode Island, conviction results in imprisonment for not less than seven years up to twenty years. Idaho gives a sentence of not less than five years in state prison. Georgia also has a mandatory minimum of one year in jail up with a maximum of up to five. Massachusetts leaves a window of imprisonment that must not exceed twenty years. 

In contrast, about half of states label the crime a misdemeanor. However, in some of those states, such as Kansas and Maine, the severity level jumps to a felony if the actor causes or coerces juveniles to engage in the activity or if the person has previous convictions of bestiality. 

There is no federal law prohibiting sex between humans and animals except for the District of Colombia and military personnel. But, Lectric Law Library explains that, "There are a few federal laws, however, which list bestiality, along with many other forms of sex, which are prohibited when involving children." (18 USCS @2256, 3509 (1994)) 

SHOULD CALIFORNIA GET TOUGHER ON BESTIALITY? 

Dea Avise, who describes herself as a “Los Angeles casting director who is also a psychotherapist who works with abused and traumatized children for low or no cost,” says that a misdemeanor is not a severe enough punishment and wants the penalty for sex with animals to be increased to a felony: 

I am working on changing the California bestiality law (CA Penal Code 286.5 PC) from a misdemeanor with a $1000 fine and a maximum sentence of 6 months in jail to a FELONY with much higher fines and much higher sentences to include counseling for the perpetrator(s) paid for by the perpetrator(s) and the perpetrator(s) being forced to pay for any rehabilitation and/or shelter of any abused animals. This law will contain degrees to include an increase of felony level to a higher degree if children under the age of 16 are involved. 

On her site, Stop Bestiality in California   Change CA Penal Code 286.5 to a Felony!” she is not asking for money, but for celebrity endorsements – at no pay and no cost -- who “would consider lending their name only on the list of Sponsors." 

California could also review nationwide laws and consider a broader and more enforceable description of its prohibition; e.g., Ohio's new law, which includes, "No person shall knowingly engage in sexual conduct with an animal or knowingly possess, sell, or purchase an animal with the intent that it be subjected to sexual conduct." Or, Illinois' felony law for sexual conduct or sexual contact with an animal. 

WHAT DO YOU THINK? 

Should California increase the level of penalty for engaging in sex with an owned or any other animal? Or, should bestiality just be considered a personal love of animals?

 

(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.