Webinar presenter Michelle Welch answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Investigating and Prosecuting Animal Sexual Abuse Cases. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: You mentioned a checklist. Could you repeat the name again? Was it Hare psychopathy?
Michelle Welch: It’s the Hare psychopathy checklist. If you have done any work with sex offenders especially sexual-born predators they have to go through analysis. The psychologists, they have their own tests that they run sex offenders to. The Hare psychopathy checklist is one of those. It tells you the degree of psychopathy that is going on with that particular offender and they score it for that person
Audience Question: Would you consider crush videos to be animal sexual abuse or more animal cruelty?
Michelle Welch: I’ll say they are both and let me say this why. They’re also a sex crime because they are crushing the animal in the video – that’s the animal cruelty part, right? – where they are hurting the animal but the person that is viewing the crush video is getting the sexual gratification from it so I think it is a bit of both. The most recent case that handled that was in Texas where the US attorney who basically successfully prosecuted a couple of people under the crush video statute. Again, if you were doing that not of US attorney or Department of Justice lawyer I would be charging both. I would say both.
Audience Question: Can you touch on the VA 18.2-26 dealing with attempts to commit an offense which is a non-capital felony and how that applies to people coming into a jurisdiction to commit animal sexual abuse and not having carried out the act, to be still charged with the crimes?
Michelle Welch: I’m going to have to look at the statute. I’m sorry. It seems like that’s attempted. If you would contact me we can kind of look at that together. Like I told you I don’t just pawn off advice without actually looking at the statute so let me look at that. Again, if you are not in Virginia, that is a Virginia statute, by the way, if you are not in Virginia, you want to look at your attempts and solicitations and see whether you can make that work for your case.
Audience Question: What is your opinion on prosecuting minors who have engaged with sexual abuse with an animal? Should we prosecute or should we make a deal?
Michelle Welch: I think that is going to be dependent on the facts. The thing about the juveniles is for me it’s going to matter what they did, right? Whether they have a background of child sexual abuse themselves like someone abusing them. The juveniles for me I want to know what’s being done to them. Why are they doing this? They’re doing this because they are seeing it in the home? Are they are being sexually molested. I want to know what their background is before I answer that. I think you, in a hard world I say prosecute everything, right? That’s not the world that we live in. We know that people often do things to animals because they are seeing it in their home, they are being abused themselves or they are watching someone do it to an animal, right? I’d want to know the background before I make that decision. If it’s a particular case you have, contact me afterward, and I’m glad to talk about the specifics. I don’t like to go around saying I prosecute everything because I need to know the facts of the case before I can know whether I can prosecute it or not. As prosecutors, we need to do justice. Is justice prosecuting them for that? I know that some people might disagree with them on the webinar that we always should prosecute but I need to know what the background is before I can answer that.
Audience Question: Is the crime of sexual abuse of an animal growing or is it becoming more common or is it simply that awareness is growing and the seeing more reporting happen?
Michelle Welch: Ginny Edwards (?), Dr. Smith-Blackmore, there’s a lot of people who have been doing a lot, Jeremy Hoffman, to kind of raise the awareness. I don’t know that it is increasing. I do think that it is 1-3%. In our study, we saw that even on the sexually violent predators, it is only about 1-3%. That’s the worst of the worst. I really thought that number would be greater. The fact that it wasn’t kind of heartened to me because these are sexual predators. They have sexual deviance at such a high level, they’re recidivists – all that good stuff. I think that it is more getting more than we are getting reported. I would say that this is a great plug for NIBRS. For those of you who are police officers and we really need to report our animal crimes to NIBRS which is the National Incident Based Reporting System of the FBI. Everyone is on NIBRS. What we did in Virginia is we try to get our animal control officers to report to their law enforcement agencies who then can report that animal crime. Marylee Randar (?) at AWI who has been a champion of this, John Thompson of NACA, formerly National Sheriff’s Association. What we will know in a couple of years is just how prevalent it is once we get everyone reporting their animal crimes and one of the animal crimes you report is animal sexual abuse. Ginny Edwards (?), her studies were based off you know news articles, looking up prosecutions. She really like have a hard road to hoe. I’m hoping in a couple of years she will have that data that she always wanted because it will be easier because it is actually easier to get a hold of.
Audience Question: what if we don’t have access to a forensic vet? Is there a resource for finding that vet? or is there a resource that you know of that we could give a vet to help them understand what’s needed in a sexual case exam or evidence collection?
Michelle Welch: Obviously I’d used one of Dr. Smith-Blackmore’s, some of her data in her studies. She’s one. Dr. Melinda Merck is another resource. ASPCA, University of Florida, they could be your resource to your vet who might be doing your exam. What I figured out and we keep on doing this, where I used to have state vets who could go out with me on crime scenes especially for animal fighting and large scale animal abuse cases. They keep kind of whittling away whether they can go out or not. We are basically trying to get vets that are interested in helping on animal abuse cases and then educating them. University of Florida has an online course. I think there is that portfolio. I know that Dr. Smith-Blackmore and Dr. Melinda Merck has tons of resources for you. If you would reach out to them, if you need the number, you can reach out to me or their email. Those are great resources for you.
Audience Question: Are you familiar with perpetrators who have sex with dead animals? Our state laws on bestiality has changed definition to include animals both alive and dead.
Michelle Welch: Yes. There was a case here in Virginia, I can’t remember what locality now where the officer rolled up on the guy having sex with the dead deer like right beside the road. I’m really glad that you brought that up. Is it just live animals or is it alive or dead? And if you don’t have that in your statute, you need to have it changed. I would commend Kentucky one more time. I don’t know – I think Ginny Edwards (?) may have played a part in it but I know Joey Estese (?) and HSUS have a role to play to make sure that that statute got written but is written very comprehensive. I would recommend that one to you because that is really a good statute, in my opinion Secondly, if you have a search warrant, make sure that you put alive and dead, right? That’s just across the board for animal abuse, alive, dead, unborn. You know what I mean? You just never know what is going to happen, you bring in a dog, you think you need to know if they are pregnant or not but you got 7 puppies. Again, making sure that you have that and put that in your search warrants and make sure it is in your statutes for sure. One of the five animals that perpetrators have sex with was a dead deer as well. A lot of times it is a crime sort of like sexual assault in a lot of ways. It’s a crime of convenience or opportunity. Opportunistic, if you are walking down the street, they sexually assault you because you are there, right?
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