Good news for welfare organisations, but some question whether the law change is necessary
By Jordan Bond
If you like having sex with dogs, you’d better be quick: Denmark is making the practice illegal in 2015.
Danish Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Dan Jørgensen announced in October that he would be making an amendment to the Animal Welfare Act to outlaw sex with animals next year.
Already illegal in most other European countries, the minister feared Denmark would become a “sanctuary for people with these inclinations”.
In an emailed response, the minister’s office said the likely punishment for a first time offender would be the same as animal cruelty, which is already illegal, and stands at a maximum of 2,000 Danish kroner (€270).
Bestiality, the act of having sex with an animal, is one of the few sexual taboos that has not become more normalized over the last 50 years. The greater acceptance of contraception, pre-marital sex, abortion and alternative orientations means bestiality is now one of the few areas of sexually-related behaviour that has not seen vastly greater acceptance by the western world in the last half-century.
A victory for animal welfare organisations
Despite being seen as a smaller animal rights issue than scientific testing, food production and the clothes industry, there’s no doubt that animal rights organisations actively campaign against bestiality, and this comes as a victory.
PETA’s (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) stance on bestiality makes it clear that any sexual involvement with an animal is unjustifiable and unquestionably abuse.
“It’s obvious that an animal is unable to give consent to sex – in other words, it’s rape,” PETA’s press officer Ben Williamson said in an email.
But Oliver Burdinski, a zoophile (someone who is sexually attracted to non-human animals) refutes this allegation. He says he never has and never would harm an animal – in fact he welcomes laws that prosecute those who do.
Burdinski says he no longer has a sexual relationship with his 12-year-old dog Joey because Joey no longer has the drive. He says because he played a passive role in their sex life, and Joey the active role, he doesn’t understand how that could be construed as abuse or rape.
Opposing PETA’s position, Burdinski says dogs are able to give consent.
“Everyone who has an animal, maybe a dog or a horse knows if their animal wants something or doesn’t. You know if your dog wants to go out on a walk, or wants to eat, or is happy or not happy.
“An animal can’t talk, but it can show what it feels and what it wants.”
Hear more from Oliver about the nature of his relationship with Joey below.
The effects of long-term abuse
But further afield from zoophiles like Oliver are those who tend to hide in the shadows. There is little doubt that there are some who harm animals physically and sexually – something that is already illegal in Denmark. Some of these people, like zoosadists, abuse animals for their own sexual gratification.
Mette S. Herskin, a behaviour and stress biologist from Aarhus University tells me that there is no truth to the belief that animals, and more specifically mammals, don’t feel as much pain as humans do.
She says if an animal is repeatedly harmed over periods of time, a “lack or responsiveness, almost apathy, where they stop responding to stimuli” can occur.
Although pain is still very much felt, the animal learns that there may be no way to escape and starts to shut down their behavioural responses, she says.
“They will develop some kind of depression-like symptoms where they stop responding very much to the pain. They kind of just lock the world away and turn inwards.”
Deviants feel little guilt
Dr Karen Munk, a deviance psychologist at Aarhus University, says scientists are still unaware of what causes sexually deviant behaviours.
She says scientists do see patterns in paedophilia, which may carry over to other types of sexually deviant behaviour.
Those with deviant sexualities know they outrage society, but often don’t feel bad for committing these acts, Dr Munk says.
“They are completely excited and find it wonderful. They don’t feel bad.”
Dr Munk says often sexual deviants are not aware that they are doing any harm to the other party. She says they would be horrified if they found out they were hurting them because of their strong feelings of affection for the other.
The amendment and ethics
Former chairman of the Danish Ethical Council for Animals Peter Sandøe says animal abuse has and always will be wrong, and those who commit those crimes are currently punished under Danish law. However, he says he struggles to see the ethical problem in some sexual situations.
“I think if you have a male animal penetrating a human it’s very difficult to see where the animal welfare issue could be.”
He believes amending the law to make all sex with animals illegal may make it difficult to find the worst offenders.
“Those who are part of the environment but treat animals decently cannot be whistleblowers because they would incriminate themselves,” Sandøe says.
“It just seems to me the completely wrong response.”
Sandøe describes the law as a ‘”feel-good legislation” – something that makes most happy but will have very little effect, if any.
“It just seems to hang there and make people feel like we’re a very civilised society because we have such a law.”
The law will bring Denmark in line with an EU directive and other European countries including Germany, France, Britain and neighbouring Sweden.