Q&A with Jenny Edwards, criminologist and expert on zoophilia/zoosadism.

by Patch O'Furr

Content warning for animal abuse and sexual violence. Part 5 of a 5 part update about the Zoosadist chat leaks.

In September 2018, the furry fandom was shocked by news about zoosadists (people into rape, torture and murder of animals for their fetish). Part 1) looks at how their ring was exposed, the threat to events, and who is implicated. Part 2) looks at police involvement and evasion by the ring. Part 3) is about trying to report a safety risk to an event. Part 4) shares a new development. And this part looks at the issues with an expert.

Jenny Edwards (mjennyedwards.com) may be the only person in the U.S. (or the world) who specializes solely in issues related to zoophilia and bestiality. She helps legislators, law enforcement, investigators (both above & below ground), social workers, psychiatrists, and attorneys with understanding, detecting, and prosecuting animal sex abusers.

(Patch:) Hi Jenny, thanks for being generous with your time. Briefly, how would you rate my non-professional/independent investigation on this story, and can you give a “greatest hits” of your background?

(Jenny:) First, let me just say how amazed I am at the work you’ve done on exposing zoosadism within the zoo and furry communities. I know how difficult it is to get solid information in the first place, let alone cross-check it with other sources, so kudos to you for not only doing that but for sharing this important information. Now about my background …

  • Prior to Ken Pinyan’s death in 2005 (the “Enumclaw case”) I was a systems engineer with Xerox, IBM, and Microsoft. 
  • At the time of the Enumclaw case, I was managing a large animal shelter, which is how I became intrigued with zoophilia (sexual interest in animals) and bestiality (acting on that sexual interest). On behalf of Pinyan’s family, we moved his horse to our farm where I began to understand the challenges a sexually abused animal faces, and just how little we knew about animal-attracted people (AAPs) or people who sexually abuse animals (ASOs).
  • Since 2005 I have conducted and published statistical research; written articles for law enforcement, psychology, and veterinary publications; been instrumental in getting laws passed or improved in multiple states; and have developed and delivered training materials for law enforcement, veterinarians, social workers, and prosecutors. 

Zoosadism is a heavy topic, so I wanted to reach someone with authority beyond the fan level of my news site. I tried to reach Dr. Mark Griffiths at Psychology Today, but he was busy being a professor. I tried getting a referral from the GOP office for Elton Gallegly (former Republican U.S. Congressman who helped to outlaw animal crush videos), and they treated this like a conspiracy theory and how dare I ask. It’s hard to know where to start with something so specialized. Do these issues have a hard time getting taken seriously?

Absolutely. The whole topic is met with disgust, disbelief, or derision just about everywhere you turn. Legislators don’t want to tackle “controversial” issues – especially those that have anything to do with “abnormal” sex practices. Law enforcement officers think bestiality is “just” about animals and they’ve got murder and mayhem to worry about. Prosecutors are reluctant to take on cases because they may only prosecute one bestiality case in their entire career, so what’s the point in studying the law to get the best result for the victim? Judges are reluctant to send animal abusers to jail and think they’ll do better with counseling, but mental health practitioners don’t see sexual attraction to animals as a mental health disorder. So all of this perpetuates the reluctance to do in-depth research that would aid in our understanding of the nature and prevalence of the practice.

Animals can’t consent, and bestiality/zoophilia is an uncomfortable topic for people of any stripe. But compared to the mainstream, furry fans might reject the topic for bringing kinkshaming or media sensationalism. It’s not an unfounded fear. Hold on, this will be a trip to explain.

Furry fandom member background can include stigma from bullying, being LGBT, non-neurotypical, or just nerds. They found a place where they belong and can feel protective about it. It brings love for social liberation and tolerance. There’s also long-standing sensitivity about being a target for tabloid-style media smearing. It makes a “fandom complex” about certain paradoxes. The group has at least 3 circles — genre fandom, indie subculture, and kink community, and things can get complicated on the fringes. Disney fandom goes under the same umbrella as popular self-made porn art. Pop culture is an influence, but it gets resisted by alternative and queer expression. Talking about “murrsuiting” (sex with a fursuit) might take walking on eggshells before even heavier topics. It makes furries their own worst enemies sometimes, with forced denial and beating each other up with non-solutions.

I’m writing before Part 1 goes out, and it’s easy to predict a laundry-list of attacks at me for being a shamer, witch-hunter, muck-raker, or traitor for showing dirty laundry. I’ve been targeted with tons of harassment. One time it was for hosting a guest article about “the complexities of problematic kinks”, including “cub” art. That can start with non-explicit role-play/”age play” but verge into drawn child porn. It can come from personal drawing from anyone with a pencil, but makes a dangerous grooming tool when shared. The guest writer outed an abuser, and ended with calling the art dangerous (which nobody read). It was the thought process of a direct source instead of a straw man, and allowed here for a deep look inside to prompt any wider goal than blunt attack on single targets. (Perhaps artists setting standards as a guild or compact). 7 months after it published with zero complaint, a small group of trolls cut pieces out of context to mislead an attack mob at a straw man. (I have nothing to do with that kind of content.) Some of them got to enjoy emotional sadism, but it gained nothing besides hurting work for this report and setting up superficial attacks for being too lenient and too shamey at the same time.

The point is, the same blunt hammer can apply to furry art that ranges from anthropomorphic cartoons to “feral” porn (drawings of real animals). It relates to how the ring member Kero tried using feral art as a euphemistic excuse. But furry fandom keeps a blind spot about a fringe who do mental gymnastics for claims that animals can consent. (It’s like how NAMBLA tried to ride coattails of the gay rights movement in the 1970’s). I know because some of them (even popular members) wanted to debate this when I was investigating. Zoophilia isn’t an orientation, it’s a paraphilia (and can blur with preying on kids or zoosadism — this ring grew from existing zoo groups), so this is the king of “fandom complexes”.

It’s hard to articulate love for harmless creativity, and no issue with kink for consenting-adults, while writing about zoosadists. I love furry fandom but free love doesn’t include rape. Some want to “see no evil” about it. Can you give any firm statements about this? 

I can tell you that where I stand is firmly on the side of human-animal sex as something that should be prohibited. Not every person who sexually abuses an animal is sexually attracted to the animal; sometimes it’s about dominance or anger or control. Sometimes it’s just attention-seeking (like the drunk person at a party who does it on a dare, or the couple looking to spice up their sex life). Sometimes it’s just about curiosity (like the person who gets turned on by deviant porn and then wants to try it out). But the bottom line is that an animal is part of a vulnerable population that our society has chosen to protect from things we deem harmful. Bestiality is one of those things.  

Here’s another firm stance: I have absolutely no problem with furries, and almost always include slides or content in any presentation I do that makes the clear distinction between furries and zoos.  

And I have no problem with erotic anime, manga, or furry art. What IS a problem is images that depict violence or sex acts with child-like characters. I wrote an entire article on “the Miller test” which basically asks: 1) Would the average person find it offensive? 2) Does it break any existing law? 3) Does it have any artistic, literary or scientific value? I add one more guideline: would I show it to a child?

I’m curious about how you can engage the furry community as an outsider. (1) Do you think you might get treated as sex-negative or anti-porn? (2) Is there anything dangerous about erotic furry art? (3) Can anyone accuse you of being a shamer for bringing judgement on zoophilia, and does it even matter? (4) How complicated is it to mediate between free expression, human sexuality, a community’s fear of outside meddling, and law enforcement? 

  • (1) I think that sexual fantasy (including porn) can be a good thing. I can say, though, that I’m against sex acts or fantasy that is physically dangerous or degrading (unless it’s between consenting adults).  
  • (2) Danger is a little tricky to discuss. Erotica is sexually stimulating but not sexually explicit, i.e. it turns you on but doesn’t show genitalia in a sexualized setting. (So naked babies in bathtubs is neither titillating nor sexually explicit). Whether it’s furry art, anime, or “live” animals/people – it’s not dangerous unless it’s used in a harmful way. 
  • (3) I certainly hope not to be called a shamer. I don’t make value judgements on beliefs or feelings or interests. What I do judge is actions or behaviors. I wouldn’t shame someone for being an alcoholic, but I would not allow that person to drive me home. 
  • (4) For community limits, I would say that I believe you can and should do anything you want with anyone else who wants to do it with you, as long as it doesn’t harm someone else or break any law. 

Have you seen weird cases without easy answers, or very clear cut places for progress?

Sometimes it’s difficult to untangle what actually happened and whether a law was actually broken. For example, there was a case where people were seen coming to a residence, picking up a dog, exchanging money, and bringing the dog back after a short while. A concerned citizen called an animal welfare organization who jumped to the conclusion that it was an animal “sex trafficking ring”. The dog owners were arrested, but after investigation, it turns out they were into dog fighting and “renting” dogs for breeding purposes. Then the question is whether it’s illegal to rent a dog for breeding to another dog. 

Places for progress is a different question. There are several areas where progress needs to made:

  • Education & training for social workers, veterinarians, animal care providers, and Joe Citizen on how to spot signs of sexual abuse.
  • Support for “cross-reporting” so that when a social worker sees child abuse in the home, s/he also asks whether an animal is also being abused, or when a vet examines a dog with suspicious injuries s/he reports it to law enforcement. 
  • Passage of strong, enforceable laws.

Can you talk about a profile of the kind of people in my report?

Sexual sadism is a form of paraphilia, which broadly defines means an atypical sexual interest that’s intense, recurring, and has lasted more than six month. So someone with zoophilia is sexually aroused by animals; someone with zoosadism is sexually aroused by causing fear, pain, or death. 

We don’t really know what causes someone to have any form of paraphilia – in particular one that involves pain. The theories are that it gives a feeling of power to someone who otherwise feels powerless, it may be a release for other sexual fantasies, or may be a progression from another paraphilia – for example crushing, which can start out with crushing crackers, and end up with crushing puppies. 

The one thing we do know is that people seldom have only one paraphilia. The most common secondary paraphilia in zoos is pedophilia, followed by copro/uro (poop/pee), and voyeurism (peeping tom). 

My research has shown there’s no single profile of a zoo. The most common thing is they are White men. Beyond that it’s a crap shoot. People into S&M are generally more aggressive and tend to be risk-takers in other ways (base diving instead of bungee jumping). In my experience, zoosadists are often narcissists – (put other people down, pretend to have high self-confidence but have few real friends, and lie a lot). In my experience, zoosadists tend to be younger than typical zoos.

What are the social dimensions of this problem? I’m guessing it’s a very “tip of the iceberg” story.

Definitely tip of the iceberg. As paraphilias go, sadism is less-often diagnosed than zoophilia, and zoophilia is considered very rare. (Sidebar: that may be more a matter of sexual abuse of animals not being exposed rather than it just not happening very much.) 

From a community health point of view (which I’m guessing is what you mean by social dimensions), societies agree on a set of behaviors they deem acceptable or unacceptable. When someone or something doesn’t fit that mold, it causes problems. So, for example, murder or child molesting are completely verboten. Child pornography is an extension of child sexual abuse, so it too is completely verboten. With zoos, just about anyone outside of the zoo community itself would agree that it’s “frowned upon” if not something that should be illegal. So – when a person is caught having sex with an animal, it upsets the natural order of things. (From a biblical point of view, it’s a crime against nature, which is why some laws use that terminology instead of bestiality.) … (For the record, I am not religious and not even close to a Bible-thumper.)

Animal welfare and our attempt to create laws to protect an animal’s welfare have occurred because, as a society, we’ve come to believe it’s inhumane to be knowingly cruel to an animal. (That’s why they call animal shelters “humane societies” btw.) 

Sorry, that was a long answer. In sum, bestiality and zoosadism are a threat to society in that it’s very aberrant behavior from what we expect of someone. The sexual target comes from a vulnerable population protected by law (just like children, the elderly, and incapacitated people.) It violates the integrity (and therefore the health and welfare) of a sentient being. 

[In case you don’t ask me, here’s a good spot to give you my 2-bit lecture on consent. Consent means you agree to something. Informed consent means you understand what you’re agreeing to. Animals (just like other vulnerable populations) cannot given informed consent by their very nature. As an example, if I offer a dog a treat, the dog will happily consent to taking the treat, yet has no idea why I made the offer. I might just like dogs, or I might want to lure it into my bedroom for sexy-time.]

Do you see dimensions that especially apply in the furry fandom? 

I draw a clear line between furries and zoos. As far as I know the furry community is very benign and doesn’t actually hide its interests. I suspect I could go to a furry convention if I chose to. Zoos, on the other hand are not at all benign and definitely hide what they do. You have to work hard to find a zoo gathering. And even harder to get into one.

There are “fringes” to almost any kind of community or organization. As nearly as I can tell, about 5-10% of “furries” are really zoos who may also have a furry interest (or may just be posers). Zoos are used to living on the edge; they are used to hiding their behavior. The furry community gives them a safe place to hide  because it’s already a community made up of people with atypical interests. 

If I understand it correctly, murrsuiting is about two people having sex in fursuits. That’s two people, giving informed consent, right? Totally not the same thing as a person having sex with a critter in a “real” fursuit who can’t really consent.

I see you have background in forensics, and tech has such a big role in the internet bringing the most obscure interests together and letting a zoosadist ring exist… can you talk about the technical details of handling cases?

No, other than to say that computer forensics and undercover operations are much more sophisticated than most people realize. 

Can you talk about the challenges for law enforcement, like policy gaps, or problems like getting probable cause when a ring informs its members how to evade? I was interested to learn about a role for drug trafficking in this ring, with a Vet Tech ring member supplying drugs to sedate their victims. It makes me think that collateral crimes can help get a handle on a slippery ring. 

Probably the biggest gap for law enforcement is “the law”. Some jurisdictions don’t have specific prohibitions against animal pornography (like they do for child porn), so when a bestiality video is your only physical evidence, a case can be difficult to prosecute unless there’s some other illegal thing happening like child porn, or solicitation of someone for sex, or drugs. … all of which, btw, occur regularly in bestiality-related arrests. (Unfortunately, it’s very common for bestiality to not be charged or for that charge to be dropped in plea bargaining in favor of the other, more easily prosecuted charges. … Which once again makes it look like bestiality happens less often than it actually does.)

Equus: A psychiatrist treats a teenager who mutilates horses — one of the few media depictions of this issue.

If people want to help, what’s the best way?

First of all be safe. But don’t even think about approaching law enforcement unless you have some physical evidence or a hell of a lot of probable cause that you know firsthand. (Therein lies the challenge with internet chats. You’re not physically in the room having a direct conversation with a person. So technically it’s all hearsay.)

Video evidence is very strong, but only usable if the animals or people are identifiable, and in some jurisdictions there are statutes of limitation (how do you prove when it happened unless you were there? And if you were there are you implicated?)

Where do you see these issues trending in the future?

Given that forensics and HAI (human-animal interaction) are become very popular fields of study, as well as viable sources of employment, I predict that the amount of research will continue to grow – meaning our understanding of the nature of the problem and what we should do about it will also grow. 

If the number of bestiality-related arrests* are any indication, I think law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges will continue to take the issues more seriously than in the past. 

(* Prior to around 2004, there were only 1-2 arrests each year; in the past several years there have been over 100. So even though that’s still an extremely small number when compared to arrests for homicide or burglary or driving while drunk, it’s a significant increase.)

Is there anything else we should talk about?

I think the furry community can be a huge help in early detection. But there needs to be a conduit – not necessarily me, but someone like me – who can put a case together and get it into the right hands. Cops are a twitchy lot. They are suspicious by nature, and spooked by anything that’s not part of their regular job. In order for an enforcement officer to respond to a complaint, s/he has to have reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred. [Citizens are protected by the Constitution from “unreasonable search and seizure” so a cop can’t just knock on your front door or surveil your property unless he has a legally protected reason to do so.]

Thanks to Jenny Edwards (mjennyedwards.com) for kindly and openly bringing outside authority, and her work in researching and educating about these understudied issues.

Action shortly before publishing:

More — Part 1): Exposing the ring. Part 2): Running scared. Part 3): Investigation blocked. Part 4): A new development. Part 5): Interview with an expert.

Like the article? These take hard work. For more free furry news, please follow on Twitter or support not-for-profit Dogpatch Press on Patreon.