ALBANY, New York––As a team of 165 volunteers shoved snow from the frozen forest floor near Raquette Lake, New York, in early 1994, where hunter Lewis Lent Jr. said he had killed and buried 12-year-old Sara Anne Wood the preceding summer, ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton confirmed through a county-by-county comparative analysis of 1992 New York state hunting, trapping, and crime statistics that children in upstate New York counties with more than the average number of hunters per capita are three times more likely to be sexually assaulted than children in the notoriously crime-ridden Bronx district of New York City.
Lent, 43, of North Adams, Massachusetts, was arrested on January 7, 1994 after attempting to kidnap 12-year-old Rebecca Savarese as she walked to school in nearby Pittsfield. Within hours Lent became the primary suspect in a string of at least eight kidnap/rape/murders of children in Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania, and in an attempted kidnapping in Bennington, Vermont, only days before his capture.
An Albany resident most of his life, Lent traveled extensively up and down the Atlantic coast. Investigators believe he could eventually be linked to many more kidnap/rape/murders, dating back as far as 1973.
Arthur Shawcross, the most notorious serial killer of recent years in the region surrounding Albany, New York, was also an inveterate hunter. After serving nine years in state prison for raping and murdering at least two children, Shawcross was released in 1981, killed a known total of 11 women during the next decade, and was finally sent to prison for 250 years in 1991.
Psychological link known
The pattern of violence toward animals as precursor of violence toward humans is increasingly well documented in psychological literature. At least 18 major studies identified the link between 1959 and 1984. Alan Felthous, M.D., of the University of Texas Medical Branch and Stephen Kellert, Ph.D., of Yale University finally captured the attention of law enforcement authorities in 1984-1985 with a series of papers based upon interviews with 152 federal prisoners. As they explained in a paper entitled Cruelty toward Animals among Criminals and Noncriminals, “Childhood cruelty toward animals occurred to a significantly greater degree among aggressive criminals than among nonaggressive criminals or noncriminals.”
The Felthaus/Kellert findings have subsequently been confirmed and refined to produce an FBI profile that identifies cruelty toward animals, pyromania, and bedwetting as a deadly triad of predictors found in the history of nearly all serial killers.
Researchers have recognized that serial killers often use hunting as a cover for animal abuse, but have hesitated to directly link the attitudes and practices of hunters to those of sexually motivated murderers, in part because the 14 million hunters in the U.S. far outnumber the few hundred known serial killers. However, Kellert unwittingly demonstrated such a psychological link in American Attitudes Toward and Knowledge of Animals (1980), a study based on interviews with 3,107 randomly selected Americans. Commissioned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this Kellert work was published by the International Journal for the Study of Animal Problems––which may explain why it drew little if any attention from criminologists. Through his interviews, Kellert identified a “dominionistic attitude toward animals held to a significantly greater degree by hunters, trappers, and rodeo and bullfight fans, the characteristics of which are that the individual’s primary satisfactions [are] derived from mastery and control over animals.” Measuring the influence of dominionism on a scale with a maximum possible score of 18, Kellert found humane group members rated 0.9, anti-hunters 1.2, the general public 2.0, livestock farmers 2.7, fishers 3.0, meat hunters 3.3, and recreational hunters from 3.8 to 4.1. Among the recreational hunters, trophy hunters, whom studies by University of Wisconsin sociologist Thomas Heberlein have identified as being especially dedicated to hunting, were particularly inclined toward dominionism.
Trappers, Kellert found, were twice as dominionistic as recreational hunters, at 8.5, and more than four times as dominionistic as the general public.
The desire for mastery and control are also recognized leading characteristics of sadists and pedophiles, who typically reinforce a weak self-image through their dominance of their victims.
Yet another Albany-area killer, Stephen Francis Kuber III, age 20, summarized dominionism as he applied it to Kimberly Jaye Decker, age 30, on July 10, 1990: “You know how you drag a deer by the horns or the neck? That’s how I dragged her,” he told New York State Police investigator James Horton. “You know how you kill a sunfish? You really have to pound. That’s how I had to pound on her. She wouldn’t die.”
Kellert found that the dominionistic attitude was held by only about 3% of the U.S. population as a whole, at a time when about 8% were hunters. Kellert further found that dominionism is quite rare among anti-hunters and members of humane groups, and in a follow-up study, Attitudes Toward Animals: Age-Related Development Among Children, he demonstrated that it is also rare in children of the second, fifth, eighth, and 11th grades.
Since Kellert did his interviews, in the 1970s, interest in trophy hunting has markedly increased, as evidenced by the number of submissions to the Boone and Crockett Club for scoring, but the number of licensed hunters in the U.S. has plummeted from nearly 22 million to under 14 million. Correspondingly, the number of licensed trappers has dwindled from a peak of circa 800,000 in 1981 to as few as 97,500. One effect of the decline in hunting and trapping participation may have been to lower the number of hunters and trappers with other motivations, while increasing the percentage who are driven by dominionism among the remainder.
Only 5.4% of Americans hunted or trapped in 1993. If Kellert’s estimate that 3% of Americans are strong dominionists still holds, along with the tendency for strong dominionists to be hunters and/or trappers, it is possible that half of all currently active hunters and trappers could be dominionists.
Because the number of serial killers is so small compared to the number of hunters, the high proportion of serial killers who also hunt animals has little statistical significance as an indicator of anything about the hunting population as a whole. Hunters also far outnumber pedophiles: in 1992 there were 528 licenced resident hunters in New York state for every person convicted of sexual assault on a child. However, though high, the ratio of hunters to pedophiles is low enough that comparisons can be meaningful if the relevant statistical associations are particularly strong. Further, if child abuse experts are correct in estimating that as many as 10 children are victimized for every case prosecuted, the discovery of a ratio of 528 hunters to one known pedophile may actually indicate a ratio of 52.8 hunters per practicing pedophile. At this ratio, if the populations of hunters and pedophiles not only parallel but overlap, hunting might no longer be just a common element in the backgrounds of most sexual predators: it might begin to be recognized as a symptom of sexual abnormality in and of itself.
It must be noted that ratios independent of other context can be misleading. A relatively low ratio of hunters and/or trappers to pedophiles may suggest a relationship in the incidence of each, but not necessarily. The question is not whether there is just a low ratio of hunters and/or trappers to pedophiles, since this can result from low numbers of hunters and/or trappers in the general population, as in New York City; rather, the question is whether the ratio is indicatively low in counties which have both high numbers of pedophiles and high numbers of hunters and/or trappers.
Conversely, a high ratio of hunters and/or trappers to pedophiles does not discount the possibility of a positive relationship in the incidence of each. Such a high ratio may reflect either a low rate of pedophila, as in the most densely populated counties, or an unusually high level of hunting and/or trapping, as in the least populated counties, where coincidentally underreporting of pedophilia (along with rape and family violence) is most likely, due to the relative lack of access to social services.
Ratios are most meaningful in comparing large numbers to large numbers. In this instance, the most meaningful ratios are found in those counties that are neither in the top nor the bottom 10% for population density. On the accompanying chart, the lowest 10 ratios of hunters and trappers to pedophiles are highlighted in bold italics; the next 10 in bold; and ratios that are among the 10 lowest but are in counties where the number of hunters or trappers per 100,000 is below the state average are in italics.
The New York state statistics
ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton initiated comparative study of the New York state hunting, trapping, and crime statistics in November 1993, days after two carloads of hunters, traveling together, shouted sexual threats at the editor and his three-year-old son. Familiar with the Felthous and Kellert studies, as well as with those that preceded them, and aware of a seemingly extraordinary number of sexual assaults upon children reported in the Glens Falls Post-Star, the leading newspaper in the region, Clifton wondered if an overlap in the dominionism of hunters and the dominionism of pedophiles might show up in hunting and crime records.
The study was begun with the recognition that any significant correlation found between hunting and pedophilia would have to stand up independently from both the known correlation of hunter density with low population density and the relationship between low population density and high incidence of incest, a primary form of pedophilia, suspected by many other researchers. Throughout the U.S., rates of participation in hunting and trapping but not fishing tend to rise as population density decreases. (Fishing participation varies mainly relative to the proximity of water.)
Pedophilia is poorly documented due to societal taboos that have inhibited reporting, but anecdotal evidence has long suggested that rates of incest are highest in rural areas, which tend to offer a limited choice of sexual partners. Folklorists have documented such sayings as, “A virgin in these hills is a girl whose daddy ran off,” in most of the more remote regions of the U.S., including upstate New York.
Merely to find parallel patterns relative to population density would not indicate an attitudinal link between the inclination to hunt and the impulse to molest a child. Nor would finding a parallel between incidence of hunting and pedophlia that doesn’t exist relative to other crimes necessarily be indicative, since it is well understood that crime in general decreases with population density. Obviously most property-related crimes require ready access to unfamiliar victims, e.g. people to rob at gunpoint, cars to steal, and homes to burglarize. Murder rates also decrease with population density; although from half to a third of all murder victims are acquainted with their killers, high murder rates have always been closely linked to high general crime levels.
On the other hand, finding a particularly strong statitistical association between incidence of hunting and pedophilia could indicate that the leading reason why incest appears most common in rural areas is not the purportedly limited choice of sexual partners, as has been supposed, but rather the prevalence of the dominionistic attitude manifested to some degree in raising animals for slaughter and to an even greater degree in hunting and trapping.
Peggy Sauer of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Marjorie Cohen of the State of New York Department of Criminal Justice Services graciously provided printouts of the county-by-county hunting, fishing, and trapping license sales and crime figures from 1992. To find whatever patterns might exist, Clifton converted the raw numbers into numbers of licenses or crimes per 100,000 residents, carrying the numbers to tenths for crimes of relatively low frequency, and excluding the statistics for crimes so rare that they were not reported in at least 50 of the 62 counties of New York. Also excluded were nonresident hunting, fishing, and trapping permit sales, and juvenile permit sales the latter because juveniles by definition could not commit pedophilia, although they might commit other sex-related crimes.
As expected, hunting and trapping license sales were strongest per capita in the least densely populated counties, declining steadily as population density increased. There were no significant variations in the pattern relative to type of permit, e.g. small game vs. big game. Fishing license sales followed a more complex pattern involving both population density and proximity to water. Crimes such as murder, robbery, larceny, and theft predictably increased or decreased relative to population density. Crimes less linked to urban conditions, such as forgery and criminal mischief, tended to follow a more random pattern, probably most related to regional economic status (which was not a part of the study).
Other related crimes
If there is indeed a more than coincidental association among hunting, trapping, and pedophilia, growing out of dominionistic attitudes, one would expect to find parallels in the incidence of other crimes involving direct assertions of dominance: rape, sex crimes other than rape and prostitution, and the five categories of family violence (wife-abuse, husband-abuse, child-abuse, parent-abuse, and abuse by other family members). Aggravated assault might also fall into this category.
Such parallels appear, despite the certainty of significant under-reporting in most of these crime classifications. For instance, New York state records indicate that husbands are beaten from two to three times as often as children, and that children beat parents more often than they themselves are beaten. Both statistics fly in the face of the observations and experience of police officers, medical personnel, and caseworkers: they stand as they do because adults who are beaten, especially adult males, are far more able and likely to call the police than children, and far more likely to press criminal charges.
It is probable that sexual abuse and family violence is even less often reported in rural areas than in cities, because of the lesser likelihood that the crime will be witnessed by third parties, the decreased opportunities for intervention by neighbors or bystanders, and the greater distance between victims and sources of help.
All of this notwithstanding:
• Only one county ranking in the top 20 for incidence of sex crimes other than rape and prostitution were not above the median hunting density; all 20 were above the state average hunting density.
• Of the 20 counties with the highest hunting density, 14 were also among the 20 with the highest incidence of other sex crime; 17 were above the median rate of 123 other sex crimes per 100,000 residents; 19 were above the statewide average of 87 other sex crimes per 100,000 with New York City excluded; and all 20 were above the New York City average of 73 other sex crimes per 100,000.
• Ten of the 20 counties with the highest hunting density were above the statewide average for incidence of rape. This in itself would not be significant, except that nine of the 10 counties that were below the statewide incidence of rape are also among the 11 least populous. The lower the population of a community, the less opportunity there is for a rapist to attack a stranger, while acquaintance rapes are the least likely to be reported. Finally, the total number of rapes reported in several of these sparsely populated counties would only have to increase by a handful to boost their rates up to or above the statewide median.
• Eleven of the 20 counties with the highest hunting density were above the median of 144.5 reported wife-beatings per 100,000 residents, while two more were right on the median. Three of the remaining counties had population densities of 57 or fewer residents per square mile. The low population coincided with a lack of protective facilities for battered women, and the low rate of reported wife-beating may therefore have primarily reflected under-reporting.
To achieve even more meaningful comparisons, one might again compare rural counties with each other, defining “rural” as those counties with less than the state average population density, exclusive of the five boroughs of New York City. (Suburban counties would be those with more than the population density of the rural counties but less than the state average with New York City included, and urban counties would include all the remainder.)
• Of the 10 rural counties ranking among the 20 with the highest incidence of rape, all 10 were above the state average hunting density, excluding New York City; eight were above the median hunting density (which is nearly three times the average).
• Nine of the 11 rural counties that ranked among the 20 with the most family violence were also above the median in hunting density.
• Six of the 12 rural counties among the 20 with the most reported child-abuse were also among the 20 counties with the highest hunting density––and 11 of the 12 were above the median hunting density.
• All 10 of the rural counties that ranked among the 20 with the most reported wife-abuse are above the median in hunting density.
• All 11 of the rural counties that rank among the 20 with the most reported husband-abuse were above the median in hunting density. Conversely, 11 of the 20 counties with the highest hunting density were above the median in husband-abuse. Husband-abuse is generally believed to reflect a climate of family violence that begins with a dominionistic male family head (who may be a father or grandfather of the assailant, rather than the reported victim, who has taught by example the recourse to violence during an argument). It is also noteworthy that many and perhaps most husband-abuse cases were crossfiled counter to wife-abuse charges, usually after police are summoned to break up a domestic free-for-all in which both parties deliver blows with no clear sign as to who started it.
• Eight of the 11 rural counties that rank among the 20 with the most aggravated assault are also among the 20 with the highest hunting density.
• Of the 14 rural counties with more aggravated assaults than the statewide average excluding New York City, 12 have more than the median hunting density.
Similar associations existed relative to trapping and “other” sex crime. Thirteen of the 20 counties with the most trappers per capita were also among the 20 with the most “other” sex crime; 19 of the 20 were above the median for “other” sex crimes. No associations between trapping, rape, and family violence were evident, but this may reflect the distinctive age pattern of trappers, as opposed to that of hunters. Seven different studies published in the 15 years 1979-1993 indicated that 50-60% of all trappers were under age 20: younger than the typical convicted rapist and relatively unlikely to head a household. The next largest age group among trappers were 50+: older than the typical convicted rapist, and likely to have more grown children than children at home.
Analysis of New York state hunting, trapping, and crime statistics did not “prove” that all hunters and trappers, most hunters and trappers, or even a noteworthy number of hunters and trappers are sex perverts, active or latent. It did, however, suggest the possibility that hunting and trapping may attract many of the same individuals who are inclined toward pedophilia and other dominionistic crime. The numbers in eight categories of incidence of dominionistic crime overlap with hunting participation to a degree that cannot be explained away as chance, or as a product of confluence chiefly related to population density, like the confluence of tractor ownership with hunting participation. If there is confluence or coincidence involved, it is involved with every category of crime but one that might be associated with dominionism arson and while arson is associated with serial killing, it is also closely and far more frequently associated with deteriorating inner city neighborhoods.
The findings are thus far unique, in the absence of similar analytical studies, but two previous examinations of hunting relative to crime are worth mentioning. The first, Hunting and Crimes of Violence: An Exploratory Analysis of Correlation was presented to the 1985 annual meeting of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences by Chris Eskridge, Ph.D., of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
Eskridge examined hunting license sales per 100,000 residents of all 50 states relative to reported rates of murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and overall violent crime rates.
Eskridge found that the rates of each crime decreased with population density, as hunting participation rose, and concluded that hunting might have some type of a cathartic impact upon those who hunt, which might prevent crime. Looking at whole states rather than counties or townships, Eskridge failed to separate urban and rural crime tendencies before looking for associations with hunting. Further, Eskridge did not distinguish among types of violence that might have greater or lesser relationships to hunting; overlooked family violence completely; and relied upon rape statistics which are now known to have been hugely under-reported even relative to the statistics of today, which are also generally believed to be under-reported.
In short, Eskridge failed to look at enough of the important variables.
Two years later, in 1987, University of New Hampshire Family Research Center director Murray Straus compared teen homicide rates with numerous factors including hunting and participation in football in Why Are American Youth So Violent?, a paper presented to the Youth 2000: Imperatives for Action conference at the New York Academy of Medicine. “Essentially,” Straus summarized, “we found that the more legitimate (legal) violence, the more criminal violence, including rape and murder.” The Straus study, however, did not examine sex-related crimes other than rape, nor did it go beyond comparing broad regional populations.
Further analysis of the apparent relationship between incidence of hunting and trapping and dominionistic crime may be undertaken in either of two ways. Firm confirmation of such a relationship could be done by identifying the percentages of convicted pedophiles who have held valid hunting and/or trapping licenses within one year, two years, three years, and four to 10 years of their arrest (making allowance for time spent in incarceration, if any, between offenses). This study could only be done through official cooperation between the New York State Justice Department and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, since the identities of hunting and trapping license holders are not released to outside researchers.
The findings of the Clifton analysis could also be checked against the crime, hunting, and trapping statistics of each of the other 49 states, by anyone willing to send away for the records, which are in the public domain, and able do the necessary math. It is likely that there will be some regional variance in the relationship between hunting participation and the incidence of dominionistic crime.
At the same time, New York may be as representative for the purposes of such analysis as any one state could be. While the U.S. Bureau of the Census considers that 91% of New York residents live in metropolitan areas, compared with 77.5% nationwide, only nine states have greater rural populations. The New York ethnic balance (74% Caucasian, 16% Afro-American, 8.5% Hispanic) is close to the overall U.S. balance (80% Caucasian, 12% Afro-American, 9% Hispanic). Per capita income is slightly higher than for the U.S. as a whole, but is identical to the figures for the New England and Middle Atlantic regions. Although more New Yorkers (26%) complete college than the U.S. norm (22%), the number who complete high school (77%) is the same as the U.S. average. In short, it is not likely that a trend seen in New York, which includes 7% of the total U.S. population, will not be seen in the U.S. as a whole.
(See also “Ohio data confirms link: hunting & child abuse,” https://www.animals24-7.org/…/ohio-data-confirms…; and “Michigan stats confirm hunting/child abuse link,” https://www.animals24-7.org/…/michigan-stats-confirm…/..)
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