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Cruelty to animals in normative, sexually abused, and outpatient psychiatric samples of 6- to 12-year-old children: Relations to maltreatment and exposure to domestic violence

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We examined the associations of children's reported “cruelty to animals” and “touching animal's sex parts” with the reported presence of physical abuse and parental physical fighting for three groups of children. Maternal caregivers of 1433 6- to 12-year-old children completed the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) and the Child Sexual Behavior Inventory (CSBI). These children were categorized into three groups: a normative sample screened for the absence of sexual abuse (n=540), a sexually abused sample (n=481), and a psychiatric comparison group (n=412) without a history of sexual abuse. The caregivers also provided information on comorbid physical abuse and domestic violence. Single items from the CBCL and the CSBI related to cruelty to animals and sexual contact with animals were examined across the three groups. Gender and maltreatment history were significantly related to cruelty and sexual contact, with physical abuse and domestic violence, in some cases, having an additive effect. Cruelty to animals was significantly associated with cruelty to humans for all three groups; however, cruelty to animals was significantly associated with sexual contact with animals only for the sexually abused group. The reported prevalence of cruelty to animals was more than five times higher for the sexual abuse (17.9%) and psychiatric (15.6%) groups than for the normative group (3.1%). The results point to the critical need to assess cruelty toward, and sexual behavior with, animals in future studies of children who are maltreated, exposed to domestic violence, or psychiatrically distressed.
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