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Piers Beirne, a criminologist with the University of South Maine and author of the recently published book Confronting Animal Abuse, deals with the moral questions. He says that because bestiality always occurs with domesticated animals, there's an imbalance of power. Those animals are "completely dependent on us for food, for water, for shelter, and affection," Beirne says from his office in Portland, Maine. "I think it's morally wrong for a human to have sex with nonhuman animals for exactly the same reasons it's wrong for him to have sex with human babies or adolescents."
Senator Rich's press secretary, when asked to supply the scientific evidence backing her claims in the media about the connections between sex with animals and pedophilia, furnished a list of researchers, including Christopher Hensley, a professor at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.
But like those cited by Unti, Hensley's studies treat all human sex with animals as rape, based on the assumption that an animal cannot consent. Bestiality was the "strongest variable," he says, when it came to predicting violent criminal behavior.
However, his study was confined to prison inmates — an unusually violent demographic.
Hensley says his studies and analysis of past research leads him to believe the "graduation hypothesis." He believes "children who engage in animal cruelty graduate to humans as they get older." Hensley adds, "You see that in serial killers."
He agrees with Rich that there ought to be tougher laws against people who commit bestiality. But he suggests that waiting for the culprit to turn 18 is unwise. A budding sociopath, says Hensley, might be identified earlier. "When a child engages in animal cruelty, that serves as a red flag to the law enforcement community that there's a problem with that child and he needs some psychological help."
Of course, Hensley's ideas begin with the belief that bestiality equals animal cruelty — a premise no zoophile would accept. They describe sex that does not resemble descriptions of how serial killers raped and tortured animals. Their assertion makes it not an issue of cruelty but of morality.
Asked in March if this was a moral issue, Rich said her motivation was the desire "to protect anybody who would be victimized by sexually deviant crimes."
Having written her bill without consulting zoophiles, Rich might have been surprised to learn they too would have condemned the rape and strangulation death of the Panhandle goat that was the source of her bill. Zoophiles would have asked her to draft the bill to differentiate between those who rape animals and those who consider sex with them consensual.
But when asked whether the bill had opponents, it became clear that, to Rich, this was a question with a morally obvious answer. "How would anybody voice objection?" she asked incredulously. "Who thinks it's OK to have sex with animals?"
In fairness to Rich and to researchers who back her bill, it can be difficult to find zoophiles — it seems they prefer to find you. In March, after publishing a blog post that questioned whether bestiality was really linked with rape and child molestation, as Rich claimed in public remarks, I began an email correspondence with a zoophile who had found the article online. He soon decided I was open-minded enough to discuss the subject, but he insisted on some unusual conditions to protect his anonymity.
James (not his real name) was wary of a prosecutor's subpoena for New Times phone records. So he insisted we talk only through secondlife.com, an online role-playing game. Having created an avatar, I was asked to go to an uninhabited island where we could talk without bumping into others. James had a wolf's head and a big bushy tail, but he walked upright and wore a man's clothing. Speaking through microphones on our computers, he told me he was a middle-aged white man from the "upper Midwest."
I asked him when he had his first inkling of being a zoophile. "When you're a kid, you're not really aware of too much sexually," he says. "But I was always interested in animals, starting around age 10. It was an extension of my affection for the dog and of my discovery of sex. He's a male. I'm a male. I wanted to make him feel good."
His attraction to dogs in general — and Siberian huskies in particular — became stronger in his teens and stronger yet in his 20s. "For years, I thought I was the only one who did this," James says. "I felt like there was no one I could talk to about this. I definitely knew I wasn't going to be talking to my parents or my friends about this."
Not until he came across pornography from Denmark that showed a dog and a horse with three women did he realize he wasn't alone in his desires. Still, as he explored the pornographic world of bestiality, he recognized a difference between himself and a group that seemed bored with human sex and for whom animals were a thrilling way to spice things up. "This is not a fetish," James says of his attractions. "It's an orientation, a lifestyle."