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OPINION: How animal torturers can become murderers and domestic abusers can move to mass killing

Canada’s worst ever mass killing started as one example of the epidemic of domestic abuse
Family, friends and supporters of the victims of the mass killings in rural Nova Scotia in 2020 gather following the release of the Mass Casualty Commission inquiry’s final report in Truro, N.S. on Thursday, March 30, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

It’s long been a popular notion that individuals who abuse animals when they are young, can move on to more serious violence against humans.

Infamous American serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, and John Wayne Gacy all harmed animals as children.

Bundy raped and murdered women on college campuses across the U.S. in the 1970s. He also killed dogs and cats as a child.

Gacy raped, tortured, and murdered at least 33 boys and men in a Chicago suburb in the 1970s. Years before that, he tortured turkeys by throwing balloons filled with gasoline and then igniting the birds.

Dahmer strangled 17 men and dismembered their bodies in barrels of acid. As a child, he did the same thing to animals.

“For years, criminologists have recognized a link between animal abuse and human violence,” according to researchers Jack Levin and Arnold Arluke in a 2016 New York Post article. “There seems to be a ‘graduation effect,’ where troubled youngsters rehearse by torturing the family pet or other animals before subsequently hurting humans.”

Horrific at every turn. What is also horrific is that it seems men – and it is mostly men – who are part of the epidemic of domestic violence in our country, who commit assaults on spouses and other intimate partner’s are also prone to move on to more serious assaults, including mass killings.

The obvious lesson here is that violence begets more violence and more serious violence.

Domestic violence was at the heart of what turned into the deadliest killing rampage in Canadian history in Nova Scotia on April 18 and 19, 2020 when Gabriel Wortman killed 22 people and injured three others.

“It is alarming to know that some people responded to the early RCMP communications on the night of April 18, 2020, by thinking, ‘It’s a domestic situation.’ The mistaken implication is that a ‘domestic situation’ is not one that sets off warning bells.”

That’s according to the Mass Casualty Commission into Wortman’s shooting spree. His commonlaw spouse Lisa Banfield was not only abused by Wortman, but was at first charged with supplying the killer with ammunition.

READ MORE: Inquiry into N.S. killings calls for bold change to tackle family violence ‘epidemic’

The commissioners who examined the Nova Scotia shooting spree singled out their findings about domestic violence, saying they believe it to be the “single most important” lesson to be learned.

Women initially targeted by abusive men who go on to kill others are frequently seen as “triggers” rather than victims of the violence, the report noted. Nova Scotia RCMP publicly characterized Gabriel Wortman’s attack on Lisa Banfield the night of April 18, 2020, as a “catalyst” for the ensuing 13-hour rampage.

If the wife is a trigger or catalyst for the violence, is it maybe partly her fault? That’s like blaming tortured turkeys for the atrocities committed by John Wayne Gacy.

Backwards logic.

Kristina Fifield is a trauma therapist at Avalon Sexual Assault Centre in Halifax, one of the groups that participated in the public inquiry.

She said the current systems and institutions focused on domestic violence are not working. She said organizations like hers need stable funding to help victims and survivors.

But men need help, too.

“We also need to have adequate services funded for men who experience violence, but also for men that perpetrate violence,” she said.

I also wrote in this space in July 2022 about the epidemic of domestic abuse after the killing of Mimi Kates and Amber Culley who were essentially hiding in Chilliwack from former intimate partner Eric Shestalo.

READ MORE: OPINION: Most victims of crime fear the devil they know

He found them and killed them. Shestalo was actually due in court the day he killed the two women on a K file, or a domestic abuse charge.

How common are K files? I wrote this on April 11, 2023 and on the docket at the Chilliwack Law Courts were 38 K files. Of those, three charged were women. So that is 35 men facing criminal charges for assaulting intimate partners or other members of their family.

Just in Chilliwack.

I suppose any one of them could become the next Eric Shestalo. And while unlikely, even worse could be in store for the community from any kid out there who secretly tortures animals.

– with files from Canadian Press

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