A bill advancing in the New Jersey legislature would criminalize bestiality. That begs two questions for many: Is this an issue in the Garden State and if so, how is it possible there isn't already a law against it?

Barn doors. (piyagoon, ThinkStock)

One expert said humans do sexually abuse animals in New Jersey and the law the state does have is vague.

"We do have a very solid animal cruelty code in our state; however, it does not specify the sexual abuse of animals," said Kathleen Schatzmann, New Jersey State director for the Humane Society of the United States. "While you might get a charge under a different form of cruelty to animals, unless there is something specific, the judge could dismiss it."

Under the bill which unanimously passed the full Assembly, bestiality would be a crime of the fourth degree unless the animal dies or suffers serious bodily injury as a result of the violation, or the person has a prior conviction for an offense that would constitute animal cruelty under the statute. In those cases, bestiality would be a crime of the third degree. A fourth-degree crime is punishable by up to 18 months' imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. A crime of the third degree is punishable by three to five years' imprisonment, a fine of up to $15,000, or both.

Is bestiality happening in New Jersey? Schatzmann said the tragic answer is "yes."

"It is, and that's the real unfortunate part of this, is that animal sexual abuse is a problem today," Schatzmann said. "It's very difficult to quantify because the abuse occurs in secret and the victims can never tell."

Thirty-seven states have passed laws prohibiting sexual abuse of animals, and 21 states consider bestiality to be a felony-level offense.

The facts provided by the Humane Society of the United States are startling:

  • Sexual abuse of animals is an indicator of other violent, sexually deviant crimes.
  • The FBI researched the backgrounds of serial sexual homicide perpetrators and found high rates of sexual assault of animals.
  • Another study revealed that up to 37 percent of sexually violent juvenile offenders had a history of animal sexual assault.
  • A 2002 study found that 96 percent of juveniles who had engaged in sex with animals also admitted to sex offenses against people and reported more offenses against people than other sex offenders their same age and race.
  • In an Australian study, 100 percent of people who committed sexual homicide had abused animals, and 61.5 percent of animal abusers had also assaulted a person.