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May 4 — In a state split between liberal progressives and an extensive farming tradition, the battle to get a bestiality statute on the books in New Hampshire highlights competing interests at work in a little-known area of the law, according to advocates for and against the legislation.
Different versions of the ban passed in both chambers of the New Hampshire General Assembly, receiving unanimous support from the Senate April 21. Now the state House of Representatives faces the decision on whether to accept the Senate version that features exemption language accommodating the agricultural industry and addressing its concerns.
Those supporting a bestiality ban provided testimony indicating a connection between sex crimes against animals that escalate into sex crimes against humans, which could be prevented by requiring those convicted of the crime to register as sex offenders, said Lindsay Hamrick, New Hampshire policy director for the U.S. Humane Society.
Yet advocates for the agricultural industry expressed concern for overreach that could unintentionally ban standard agricultural practices, said Robert Johnson, policy director for the New Hampshire Farm Bureau Federation.
This story is the second in a four-part series examining the legal landscape of bestiality statutes in America (Part I: 99 CrL 100, 4/27/16).
The language in the Senate version resulted from competing testimony in the state Senate Judiciary Committee between the agricultural industry and a coalition of advocates, including law enforcement officials, domestic violence groups and the Humane Society of the U.S.
When the Senate Judiciary Committee considered the bestiality ban originally introduced in the N.H. House of Representatives, it came under fire from the farm industry and reluctant senators for its proposed placement in the sexual assault code and because of overreaching language used to exempt farming procedures, Hamrick said.
Generally speaking, the agricultural industry felt that bestiality was already covered under the animal cruelty statute, Johnson said. But that just meant the industry felt the existing statute was enough.
“The first thing we all said was that we do not support bestiality,” Johnson said. “We want to make that clear.”
However, Johnson explained the main concerns focused on statutory language. The industry worried about putting bestiality in the sexual assault codes because people—including law enforcement or prosecutors—don't fully understand agriculture practices and could over-zealously pursue cases against farmers, he said.
He said the Farm Bureau and New Hampshire Department of Agriculture explained their concern with the House's exemption language infringing on farmers' ability to care for their animals.
The language exempted “veterinary practices performed by a licensed veterinarian providing necessary care for animals bred for commercial purposes.”
Johnson said the qualified language only allowing for a veterinarian to conduct such practices made it illegal for farmers or their employees to perform many animal husbandry practices, such as artificial insemination. Additionally, he explained farmers or their employees might often give care that requires touching their animals' genitalia even when the animals are not bred for sale like dairy cows.
Both Johnson and Commissioner of Agriculture Lorraine Merrill expressed those concerns at the Senate committee hearing, Johnson said. That was also when the bill's supporters explained their main goal in making bestiality a sex crime was to ensure those convicted of bestiality should register as sex offenders, Johnson said.
Those concerns led to the amended exemption language and proposed placement in the animal cruelty statutes, but retained mandatory sex offender registration as a compromise, Johnson said. Johnson and Hamrick both said they felt the compromise adequately addressed their concerns.
In a letter supporting the bestiality ban in the Senate Judiciary Committee, prosecutor Scott W. Murray, a Merrimack County Attorney in New Hampshire, wrote that he believed the ban “essential to ensure clarity of interpretation.”
“While this type of conduct does not come to the attention of prosecutors on a regular basis, the sexual abuse of an animal is greatly disturbing and may be indicative of [a] problem which places human beings at risk,” Murray wrote. “I should note that we have seen instances of this type of conduct in the past, and have found it difficult to bring an effective prosecution under the existing Cruelty to Animals (RS 644:8) statute.”
Murray did not respond to Bloomberg BNA's request for additional comments.
Yet Hamrick said the Humane Society has seen more failed prosecutions in other states where bestiality isn't codified, which is why it's focused on states without bestiality bans.
Now that the FBI is tracking animal cruelty crimes, including bestiality, Hamrick said getting bans on the books have taken on new significance (98 CrL 229, 12/9/15).
“We can't track [bestiality] in New Hampshire if we don't have a ban,” she said. “We have nothing to enforce.”
Bestiality has always been prevalent, but “going on in an underground fashion for a long time,” Hamrick said. That's why the Humane Society started focusing on education and training for veterinarians, law enforcement, and prosecutors to prevent crimes that she said overwhelmingly sees dogs and household pets as victims.
Police Chief David Goldstein, from Franklin, N.H., said while his police force has not encountered many cases involving animal sexual assault, he expects the number of incidents to rise. Goldstein said the police tend to hear more complaints from the public once they learn about the signs that indicate ongoing abuse.
That's exactly what happened as the public learned about how to identify domestic violence or child abuse, he explained.
However, Goldstein said he regularly encountered instances linking animal and human abuse during his career. Oftentimes, Goldstein said abusers threaten to injure or kill a family pet if a child doesn't submit to sexual abuse or keep silent about other forms of violence. He added that it came as no surprise that a link existed between sexual abuse of animals and humans.
“There's a definite nexus between sex with animals and abuse of human beings,” Goldstein said.
Yet while he has not directly worked on bestiality crimes, Goldstein said his personal veterinarian told him that he consistently conducts routine pet examinations and finds symptoms of sexual abuse, but doesn't know where to turn for help. That's why Goldstein said he supports the bestiality ban and hopes to spearhead a movement for mandatory reporting next session.
What is crucial to the movement is working with multiple groups to train law enforcement and educate the public, he said.
“In my experience, a united front is much stronger and today, really the only way to get the job done,” Goldstein said. “I don't care how good you are. We have to be collective. We can't consider ourselves unique anymore.”
Even without a high number of cases to report, Goldstein said getting a bestiality ban in New Hampshire is critical.
“It's the right thing to do,” he said. “Coming from a crusty old cop, maybe that's not what people would expect to hear, but it's the right thing to do.”
Johnson also expressed the need for education and training for those enforcing animal abuse statutes. He said he worries about lawmakers, law enforcement officers, and prosecutors who have not been exposed to farming practices.
When he first started his career in agriculture about 25 years ago, Johnson said one to two dozen legislators were farmers or closely related to farming lifestyles. Now, Johnson said the House Committee on Environment and Agriculture doesn't feature a single farmer.
Additionally, he said he regularly receives calls from law enforcement officers asking about farming practices they confuse as animal cruelty.
“There are things farmers do that would be illegal if they weren't farmers,” Johnson said.
For example, he cited to removing bulls' horns or docking cows' tails.
But Johnson said the most important thing to remember is that farmers care about more than just their trade.
“We get into this business because we care about animals,” he said. “You need to respect animals because they're providing for you. You need to return the favor.”
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