Bill outlawing animal sexual abuse gains traction in Legislature

  • SAN BUENAVENTURA

  • GABBARD

A bill that would make sexually assaulting an animal a felony is moving through the state Legislature.

An amended version of Senate Bill 343 has made it through the Judiciary Committee and all three floor readings. It also passed its first reading in the House, and has been referred to the Agriculture and Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs committees.

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The legislation was introduced by Sen. Mike Gabbard, with three fellow Oahu Democrats as co-introducers. Sen. Joy San Buenaventura, a Puna Democrat, is one of three who signed on to the bill as a supporter.

The measure would make anyone who subjects an animal to sexual contact; possesses, purchases or sells an animal with intent to subject the animal to sexual contact; or organizes, conducts or participates in an act where an animal is sexually abused guilty of a Class C felony punishable by up to five years imprisonment upon conviction.

If the act occurs in the presence of a minor, or if the perpetrator subjects a minor to sexual contact with an animal, the offense becomes a Class B felony, with conviction carrying a maximum 10 year prison term.

The legislation also contains a paragraph criminalizing the promotion of pornographic images of humans sexually abusing animals.

The bill makes exceptions for veterinary medicine, animal husbandry, artificial insemination for reproduction, and customary care of an animal by its owner.

“While Hawaii has strong animal cruelty laws, the sexual molestation of animals by humans is not adequately addressed,” the bill states. ” … The Legislature further finds that the sexual assault of an animal has been significantly linked to the sexual abuse of children, as well as interpersonal violence and other forms of animal cruelty.”

The measure generated 79 pages of written testimony — all in favor — prior to the Judiciary Committee hearing.

The Humane Society of the United States noted that 46 states prohibit the sexual abuse of animals. The only states without such a law are Hawaii, New Mexico, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Lindsay Vierheilig, Hawaii state director for HSUS, described the phenomenon as “not the isolated deviant behavior you might think it is, but a prevalent and violent offense.”

“It can precede child sexual abuse, sexual homicide, and other violent acts.” Vierheilig said.

She cited a study of more than 44,000 male sex offenders that found bestiality was “the number one indicator and predictor of a person who will sexually molest a child.”

Stephanie Kendrick, public policy advocate for the Hawaiian Humane Society in Honolulu, noted the case of 79-year-old James Millet III of Metarie, La., who was charged last month with 36 counts of sexual abuse of an animal and seven counts of possession of child pornography for allegedly possessing images depicting those acts.

Millet was shot in the arm by a deputy sheriff after allegedly pointing a handgun at officers serving a search warrant at his home.

“Recognizing that animal sexual abuse is often linked with child pornography, 46 states now outlaw bestiality. The Aloha State should not be the last,” Kendrick said.

Hawaii Association of Animal Welfare Agencies, which includes the Hawaii Island Humane Society, testified there are forums online with “posts from every Hawaii county boasting of the lack of a law against animal sexual abuse and offering, as well as seeking, animals for sex.”

“These crimes take place mostly out of sight and many of the witnesses are also victims of abuse, so reports can be rare,” the group testified. “But as laws have changed nationwide over the past 20 years to recognize bestiality as a crime, related arrests have risen by 800%.”

Hilo animal advocate Vivian Tollner said she was “horrified” to learn of “members-only” bestiality websites, with posters including “tourists coming to the state looking to have sex with animals.”

“That is not the kind of tourism we want,” said Tollner, who added there’s “simply no reason not to pass this law.”

Inga Gibson, president and policy director of Pono Advocacy and former HSUS state director, said her two-plus decades of investigating animal sex abuse cases “were challenging to enforce under existing cruelty laws.”

“Prohibiting animal sexual abuse not only protects voiceless and vulnerable animals but protects children and society as a whole,” Gibson noted.

Testimony from private individuals includes one who is “appalled to learn this is not already considered a crime.” Another said the lack of felony sanctions for animal sex abuse is “shocking and an embarrassment to our community.”

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The Tribune-Herald reached out to Gabbard, San Buenaventura and the Hawaii Island Humane Society for comment, but none replied by press time Tuesday.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.