Shock. Disbelief. Appalled.
These are the reactions often elicited when people learn that sexual abuse of an animal, also called “bestiality,” is currently legal in New Mexico. In fact, New Mexico is one of only two states where this harmful behavior is not a crime – the other state is West Virginia.
Thankfully, Senate Bill 215 is poised to change this, led by bipartisan primary cosponsors: Sens. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, and Brenda McKenna, D-Corrales, in the Senate, and Reps. Andrea Reeb, R-Clovis, and Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, in the House.
It’s an uncomfortable topic to talk about. Some people often assume bestiality is exceedingly rare because incidents frequently go undetected or unreported. They may think it is a joke or a harmless quirk. However, evidence shows it occurs far too often, including in New Mexico, and is not only very harmful to the animal victims but also is linked to other violence and serious criminal activity.
Animals victimized by bestiality – most often including dogs, horses, cows, pigs and deer – often experience physical and psychological suffering, sometimes even death because of the severity of the abuse. But because New Mexico’s state and local animal cruelty laws often rely primarily on demonstrable injury, many cases of bestiality – which may leave no visual signs of external physical injury – will not lead to cruelty charges.
Additionally, bestiality is also closely linked with other abhorrent crimes, studies show. Bestiality is the single largest risk factor and strongest predictor of increased risk for committing child sexual abuse. In fact, nearly 40% of arrests for bestiality also involve child sexual abuse.
Senate Bill 215 would make it a fourth-degree felony to commit bestiality; coerce or solicit someone else to commit bestiality; or sell, buy, offer or possess an animal for the purpose of bestiality. It would upgrade the violation to a third-degree felony if done in the presence of a child or involving a child as a participant. Those convicted of these crimes won’t be able to live or work around animals for a period of time and may be ordered to undergo mental health treatment or pay for the cost of caring for animals harmed by their crime.
After the introduction of Senate Bill 215, multiple individuals – former law enforcement, prosecutors and sexual assault service providers – have shared their stories about old cases they worked on that still haunt them. These were bestiality cases connected to severe child abuse, interpersonal violence and exploitation, and murder. But with no bestiality law on the books, offenders were charged with lesser violations or nothing at all.
Outlawing bestiality in New Mexico – being able to investigate and prosecute this crime and provide serious consequences for offenders – will provide a tool for health professionals, law enforcement and the courts to address and help prevent this and its associated destructive behaviors.
By joining ranks with the rest of the country by passing Senate Bill 215, New Mexico can protect animals and keep our communities safer.