To Punish the Punishers: The Animal Rights Advocates' Dilemma

Bonnie Berry, Social Problems Research Group

The usefulness of oppressing oppressors is not a new question. It has long been recognized among social control scholars that punishment often does not operate in the commonly-accepted deterrence fashion. Plus, punishment of bad behavior may appear contradictory to the purpose of setting social standards for good behavior. Recently, there has been a move to increase criminal penalties for nonhuman animal abuse, a move, not unexpectedly, supported by animal rights (AR) advocates but a move which also causes strain among some advocates. On the one hand, heightened criminal punishment of AR offenses strongly symbolizes that the wrongdoing is indeed wrong and punishment-worthy. On the other hand, AR advocates, being for the most part educated, socially progressive members of the public, fully understand that punishing AR violations may be selectively applied and therefore (mis)targeted. Moreover, the highly emotional desire for vengeance against those who perpetrate horrific acts against helpless beings cannot be dismissed; punishment for vengeance sake is not necessarily wrong but does elicit questions of objectivity and effectiveness. Less-formalized punishmentsmay create less strain for AR advocates. These include intentional and direct punishments inflicted by AR advocates (such as verbal confrontations, letter-writing campaigns, and boycotting of animal-violating corporations) and punishments self-inflicted upon AR offenders (such as death and diseases from industrially-farm animal products). This paper does not conclude that criminal punishments for animal abuse are unwarranted but does untangle the meanings of social control for AR violations, such as the legal rationale for punishment and the similarities between the sanctioning of human and nonhuman rights abuses.

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Updated 05/20/2006