Bestiality Laws: Our Dirty Little Secret

Maria Turcios, Staff Editor

A week ago, I received an email to sign a petition on Change.org demanding that the United States government ban all forms of Zoophilia better known as Bestiality.  When I first read the petition, I honestly thought this was a joke, because in the era of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and the Humane Society of the United States, such animal cruelty could not be legal, right?

However, my curiosity was peaked and I decided do some research on the current Zoophilia laws in the United States. I was shocked to discover that in 14 states (Alabama, Hawaii, Kentucky, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming) there are no laws against bestiality. What I found even more heartbreaking was that in 19 states, including our beloved “Golden State” of California, the sexual abuse of animals was only a misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of six months in a county jail and $1,000 fine.

Being an animal lover, I was horrified to find that the sexual abuse of animals was not consider a serious offense similar to dog fighting and, furthermore, not even classified as animal cruelty. Under the California Penal Code §597.5 dog fighting is consider a felony, with a sentence of up to 3 years in jail or a $50,000 fine. Even just being a spectator is a misdemeanor with a sentence up to a year in county jail and $5,000 fine. That is twice the time in county jail and 5 times the cost in fines, compared to Zoophilia. California Penal Code §597 defines animal cruelty to be the "malicious and intentional maim, mutilation, torture, wounding or killing of a living animal." This felony is punishable by imprisonment up to a year or by a fine of $20,000.

So why does California not consider Zoophilia animal cruelty? An animal clearly cannot consent to sex, and such sodomy wounds the animal. California’s statute itself even describes the act to be a sexual assault on the animal. Yet this sexual assault is not defined as animal cruelty.

On the other hand, some states like Alaska have included such sexual conduct under their animal cruelty laws. Yet the majority of laws prohibiting Zoophilia are consider crimes against nature laws. Interesting enough, Michigan was the first state to order a repeat animal offender to register as a sex offender under the Sex Offenders Registration Act (“SORA”). This, however, was a short-lived victory for animal rights, since the Michigan Court of Appeals eventually ruled that while the animal in question was the victim of the crime, animals did not fall under the plain meaning of the word “victim” under SORA. See People v. Haynes Michigan 760 N.W.2d 283 (Mich.App., 2008).

So in conclusion, Zoophilia is a surprisingly persistent problem in the United States. And contrary to my naïve perception of the world, such incidents occur and even worse, some states do not take sufficient steps to prevent such abuses. Unless illegal gambling is involved such as in dog fighting or the animal is maliciously and intentionally wounded or killed, the sexual assault of unconsenting animals is generally not considered animal cruelty.