By: Emily Malhiot
Before 2017, Nevada was a member of a minority of states that lacked an anti-bestiality law. The rationale behind anti-bestiality laws is two-pronged: (1) protect animals and (2) prevent future violence to humans. Bestiality is considered animal abuse because the act could physically harm or even kill the animal. Additionally, it is often a precursor to other crimes, including sex-related offenses, crimes against children, and domestic violence. Despite growing concerns about animal cruelty and the connection between animal and human violence, bestiality remains a troublesome topic. Legislators are hesitant to sponsor such bills, and research and resources for bestiality investigations remain limited. However, law enforcement agencies and the public are paying more attention because of increased awareness and increased media attention.
Nevada Assembly Member Richard Carrillo (D-Las Vegas) introduced AB 391, which creates the crime of bestiality. Under AB 391, the crime of bestiality occurs when a person knowingly and intentionally (1) “engages in sexual conduct with an animal;” (2) “causes another person to engage in sexual conduct with an animal;” (3) “permits any sexual conduct” with an animal on any premises owned by that person; (4) aids or abets in any way; or (5) “photographs or films” the act. If the abused animal does not die or suffer serious bodily injury during the commission of the offense, and the offender does not have a previous felony conviction for cruelty to animals, the penalty is a gross misdemeanor. If, however, the abused animal dies or suffers serious bodily injury during the commission of the offense, or if the offender has a previous felony conviction for cruelty to animals, the penalty increases to a felony. Additionally, for a period of time determined by the court, the offender cannot own or have an animal in his or her household and cannot volunteer or work where there is access to animals. Lastly, the judge may require the offender to undergo psychological counseling.
AB 391 follows the majority of states in using the traditional term of “bestiality” in its language. States like California and Oregon classify bestiality as animal sexual abuse, reflecting the idea that animals cannot consent to such acts. Naturally, because bestiality is a sexual crime, the question of whether offenders should be placed on sex offender registries remains open; AB 391, however, does not to include this. AB 391 also moves away from the modern trend of classifying bestiality as animal cruelty, instead classifying it as a crime against morals and indecency. The reason for this is that sexual abuse does not always reveal a physical injury to the animal. A general concern regarding anti-bestiality laws is whether they invade an individual’s privacy. However, similar to child abuse cases, because animals cannot consent or speak up about their abuse, the animal’s safety and the potential future safety of humans trumps over privacy.
One problem is determining whether this bill will prove effective in protecting both animals and humans. Bestiality research and statistics remain limited for law enforcement agencies, which are now starting to pay attention. Another concern is whether law enforcement agencies will enforce the law and investigate cases.
Despite the uncertainty around the bill’s effectiveness, abused animals have greater protections and there is now recourse for these animals and for people who report these crimes to the police.
To learn more about Nevada AB 391, check out my interview on “In Session,” a podcast from the University of the Pacific Law Review.
Emily Malhiot is a staff writer for the University of the Pacific Law Review and law student student at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.