3. Empathy-based training
Empathy-based training involves classes or courses designed to increase a person's ability to recognise other people's emotional states, and to see others' points of view or take their perspective. Discussions between the victim, their family members, community members, and the offender present opportunities for the offender to experience such 'perspective taking'. The various forms of conferencing or conversation used in restorative justice approaches are where empathy training and restorative justice are linked.
Evidence suggests that there is a relationship between low empathy and offending, particularly for violent crimes. Other literature provides evidence in support of empathy-based interventions for cases of harmful, but not criminal, behaviour. However, evidence suggests that there is also a need to establish better measures of empathy, and particularly of the long-term trends in empathy and offending, before definitive proof of these links can be provided.
3.1 Empathy and animal-related offences
For empathy-based training to be used with offenders of animal-related crimes, evidence suggests it is important to consider a number of factors. Primarily, one should consider the nature of the offence, which may impact the effectiveness of the chosen intervention. Factors may include which type of animals were involved, for example pet, stray animal, or wild animal, and whether the offence was a one-off or a repeat occurrence.
It is important to consider how to facilitate the perspective taking aspect of empathy training. Role-play appears to be a common element across many empathy-based programmes, as it allows individuals to 'take' the perspective of each other. However, understanding the perspective of animals may be difficult when they are unable to voice their experience. Creating an environment to facilitate perspective taking may involve similar scenarios as suggested for restorative justice, such as using proxy actors.
Finally, studies suggest there is a strong link between empathy and attitudes towards animals. For example, effective educational and therapy programmes have used dogs to teach traits such as empathy, kindness and cooperation in children. However, the use of animals to increase empathy may be inappropriate for offenders who previously displayed harmful tendencies towards (other) animals. As such, the form of the programme, and the best methods, must be carefully considered.
3.2 Existing examples
As with restorative justice, there are relatively few examples of empathy-based training programmes being used specifically for offenders of animal-related crimes. However, the following case studies present the limited available evidence of empathy-based training, or programmes which involve certain aspects of empathy-based training, for animal-related offences. It is important to note that some of these programmes are not necessarily tied into the criminal justice system. The few examples cited indicate that these approaches can be effective, particulaly when used for young offenders.
Animal Guardians - Youth education programme in Scotland
The Scottish SPCA runs an education programme titled 'Animal Guardians' for children aged around 5 to 12 years who have been cruel or are deemed at risk of being cruel to animals. The underlying aim of this programme is to encourage early intervention, as an essential factor in tackling problematic attitudes towards animals. The Animal Guardians programme, established in 2018, teaches children what animals need, how to keep them healthy and happy, how to be responsible around animals, how to interact with them safely, and that animals have emotions. The ultimate aim of the programme is to reduce the risk of harmful behaviour by generating positive child-animal relationships and nurturing levels of empathy and compassion towards animals.
Breaking the Chain - Education programme for young offenders, who have harmed animals in England and Wales
'Breaking the Chain' is run by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), and focuses on empathy training with young offenders. The project was established in 2010 to rehabilitate young people who have harmed animals. The RSPCA identify that when an individual is cruel to an animal, punishment may not always be the most appropriate course of action to prevent reoffending. The aim of the programme is to enable a greater level of empathy towards animals through techniques delivered by youth offending managers. The feedback from the use of empathy training within this project suggests that techniques (interactive online courses, in-person handling of animals and group activities) have had a noticeable, positive effect on the young people's attitudes towards animals.
Paws for Progress - Education programme using animals in Scottish prisons
Paws for Progress is a programme developed at the University of Stirling in 2011. The non-profit organisation runs a variety of services, primarily involving training courses on dog care for offenders in prisons. In their flagship course, young men are taught how to train and rehabilitate rescue dogs for re-homing. The programme greatly benefits both the people and the dogs, reportedly having a positive effect on behaviour, kindness and respect. Similarly, the courses positively impact prisoners' well-being, confidence, and social skills.
AniCare - Treatment programme in the United States
AniCare is an intervention programme for those who have caused harm towards animals in the United States. According to research, 'AniCare in its original format emphasized helping offenders accept accountability for their behavior and challenge internalized beliefs that justify abuses of power'. Since its first iteration in 1999, the programme has incorporated other elements such as cognitive-behavioural, attachment, trauma-based, and psychodynamic approaches.
'AniCare is not a manualized intervention, but instead guides clinicians in making a thorough assessment of the factors underlying animal abuse (severity, culpability, motivation/ psychodynamics, attitudes/beliefs, emotional intelligence, family history, and mitigating circumstances) and choosing appropriate intervention tools based on that assessment. These may involve clarifying values and attitudes about animals and acquiring empathy and other interpersonal skills.'
There is also a version of AniCare for children, which developed a separate set of guidelines adapted to the age and developmental stage of the child.
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