13 June 2017

Interspecies Sexual Assault: A Moral Perspective

Interspecies Sexual Assault: A Moral Perspective was originally published on Animal Liberation Currents on June 12, 2017. We encourage people to visit their website for stimulating perspectives on animals and animal liberation.

Photo source: First International Symposium on the Artificial Insemination of Poultry, University of Maryland
June 19-22, 1994

By Karen Davis, PhD

In 2016, Merritt Clifton, the editor of the online publication Animals 24-7, advised me during an email exchange arising from comments I had posted about meat industry consultant Temple Grandin on the Animals 24-7 website,1 not to present my opinion before presenting the supporting evidence. If I wanted to write something about the methods used to artificially inseminate pigs, chickens, turkeys, cows, or goats, this would be of interest, as long as I gave agribusiness sources their due.

In this discussion, I will look at human sexual assault on nonhuman animals, with a focus on farmed animals, from an ethical standpoint. Does sexual manipulation of a farmed animal for business purposes constitute sexual assault? How is it different from – if it is different from – the random sexual assaults on nonhuman animals that society considers “deviant,” and that in some cases have been prosecuted as animal cruelty violations? Sexual manipulation is routinely performed on chickens, turkeys, pigs, cows, and other animals by farmers and researchers. Sexual manipulation in one form or another is the very foundation of animal farming, and for this reason it is neither illegal nor regarded as deviant or obscene by animal farmers.

Regarding the conflict between Merritt Clifton and me over Temple Grandin, my focus in this discussion is not on Grandin per se but on her role as an exemplar, a symbol, and a re-enforcer of the moral contradictions, cynicism, and sentimentality reflective of mainstream society’s muddled attitude toward farmed animals. This includes the humane-washing types of farmers and retailers who advertise sentiments designed to attract conscientious consumers eager to believe that they can have slaughter and humane treatment in the same package. The focus of this discussion is on one phase of the animal production process, albeit one that ramifies through all phases: that of sexual manipulation.

How to Make a Pig Fall in Love

Like many people, Temple Grandin professes to love animals, while defending the right of human beings to own, control, manipulate, mutilate, buy, sell, masturbate, inseminate, incarcerate, slaughter, and sexually molest them for business purposes – as long as it is done “humanely.” Regarding the latter, her book Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior has a section called “How to Make a Pig Fall in Love.” 2

Rather than summarize, I offer this portion for consideration. Grandin writes that:

Breeding pigs commercially is an art. I talked to a man who had one of the most successful records for breeding sows out there and he told me things no one’s ever written in a book as far as I know. Each boar had his own little perversion the man had to do to get the boar turned on so he could collect the semen. Some of them were just things like the boar wanted to have his dandruff scratched while they were collecting him. (Pigs have big flaky dandruff all over their backs.) The other things the man had to do were a lot more intimate. He might have to hold the boar’s penis in exactly the right way that the boar liked, and he had to masturbate some of them in exactly the right way. There was one boar, he told me, who wanted to have his butt hole played with. “I have to stick my finger in his butt, he just really loves that,” he told me. Then he got all red in the face. I’m not going to tell you his name, because I know he’d be embarrassed. But he’s one of the best in the business – and remember, this is a business we’re talking about. The number of sows successfully bred by the boars translates directly into the profits a company can make.

Continuing . . .

This same man also told me he had to deal with the female pigs the same way. With a cow you can just take a catheter and insert it into her womb and she’ll have babies. She doesn’t have to be turned on or interested. But you have to get the sow turned on when you breed her so her uterus will pull the semen in. If she isn’t fully aroused she’ll have a smaller litter because fewer eggs will get fertilized.

Concluding . . .

So the breeder has to be able to tell exactly when the female pig is ready. One of the signs you look for is that when a pig is sexually receptive her ears will go “blink!” and pop straight up. That’s called popping. Also, when you put pressure on her back, which is what she would feel when the boar mounts her, she’ll stand perfectly still. Breeders call that ‘stand for the man.” A good breeder knows when his sows are ready to stand for the man, and he usually sits on each sow’s back when he inserts the semen so she feels that pressure on her back. Some breeders put weights on the sow’s back to accomplish the same thing. . . .

Pig breeders respect the animals’ nature, and they do a good job with their animals.

Recounting the sensitive topic of sexual use of one being by another involves more than raw data. Attitude and tone on the part of the speaker inform how the act is perceived by both the speaker and the audience. Grandin’s tone and attitude in these passages are jocular: the captive pigs are the butt of her humor. It is axiomatic in circles where she is known outside her field – the fawning public radio and television establishment, for example - that this woman “cares” about animals, that she “knows” and “respects the animals’ nature.”3 Her description of how to make a pig fall in love does not support this view. One thing it does portray is the interface between business and prurient pleasure on the part of the “breeder” and the storyteller. For both of them, the animal’s body and sexual “antics” are a joke.

Book cover for Confronting Animal Abuse by Piers Beirne


Historically, the term for sexual activity involving a human being and a nonhuman animal is bestiality. (Note that the word is pronounced bestiality with a short “e” and not “beastiality.”) In “Rethinking bestiality: Towards a concept of interspecies sexual assault,” Piers Beirne, a Professor of Criminology at the University of Southern Maine, explains that the word comes from the Latin bestialitas denoting, variously, the “savage qualities allegedly inhering in nonhuman animals” mingled with negative connotations of primitivism, human-animal sexual intercourse, and nonhuman animals’ mating behavior. In modern usage, bestiality tends exclusively to denote sex between humans and other animals. Beirne writes that, in law, “it refers to sexual intercourse when a human penis or digit enters the vagina, anus or cloaca of the animal.” It often also entails “any form of oral-genital contact, including those between women and animals and even, in psychiatry, fantasies about sex with animals.”4

The Hebrew Bible explicitly condemns a man or a woman “lying with a beast” on penalty of death for all participants. Beirne cites three traditional religious beliefs that condemn bestiality as a sin or a crime: 1) it ruptures the natural, God-given order of the universe; 2) it violates the procreative intent required of all sexual relations between Christians; and 3) it produces monstrous offspring that are the work of the Devil. 5

In More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality, I give two examples of how bestiality was dealt with, following biblical precedent, by the 17th-century English Pilgrims and Puritans in Massachusetts. In 1679, a woman and a dog were hanged together for allegedly committing the sexual act.6 In 1642, a servant named Thomas Granger was accused of conducting “buggery” – sexual intercourse – with a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves, and a turkey.

Book cover: More Than a Meal
In More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality, I give two examples of how bestiality was dealt with, following biblical precedent, by the 17th-century English Pilgrims and Puritans in Massachusetts. In 1679, a woman and a dog were hanged together for allegedly committing the sexual act.6 In 1642, a servant named Thomas Granger was accused of conducting “buggery” – sexual intercourse – with a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves, and a turkey.

Discovered raping the mare, Granger not only confessed to having sex with her then, “but sundry times before and at several times with all the rest of the forenamed in his indictment.” He and a fellow rapist insisted that sex with animals was a custom “long used in old England.” Condemned by a jury, Granger was executed. William Bradford, the Pilgrim governor of Plymouth Colony who conducted the execution, wrote:

A very sad spectacle it was. For first the mare and then the cow and the rest of the lesser cattle [cattle in the general sense of livestock, i.e., “live property”] were killed before his face, according to the law, Leviticus xx.15; and then he himself was executed. The cattle were all cast into a great and large pit that was digged of purpose for them, and no use made of any part of them.

Writing in the 17th century, the English clergyman Richard Capel argued that bestiality is the worst sexual crime because “it turns man into a very beast, makes a man a member of a brute creature.”7

Despite the conviction that sex with other creatures debases humans into “beasts,” Dutch biologist Midas Dekkers, in his book Dearest Pet: On Bestiality, takes us on a journey of human sexual interest in and use of nonhuman animals as documented in art, literature, court records, personal confessions, veterinary files, and popular culture through history.8 He points out contradictions in human attitudes toward interspecies sex, forcing us to look at some old things in a new way. He says, for instance, that since the God of the Christians, like Zeus of the Olympians, once descended in the form of a bird to impregnate a woman – a reference to the similarities between the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan and the story of the Virgin Mary being visited by the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove to produce Jesus Christ– Christianity “is founded on bestiality.” 9

The fact that Hebrew scripture contains explicit prohibitions against sex between humans and nonhuman animals signals that the practice was common enough in olden times to require strict prohibitions and penalties. We may assume that the rape of farmed animals has been practiced by men and boys of all cultures that raise animals for food. Given the direct proximity and easy availability of animals on a farm, added to the fact that farmed animal abuse is institutionalized by the food industry, it cannot be difficult, Dekkers writes, for sexual urges and sadism “to find satisfaction.”10

Animal Farming Invites Lascivious Conduct

The point cannot be overstressed. Farmed-animal production is and always has been based on manipulating and controlling animals’ sex lives and reproductive organs. Their bodies are up for grabs for farmers to do with as they please. Sexually abusive in essence, animal farming invites lascivious conduct and attitudes toward the animals on the part of farmers and producers, as illustrated by Temple Grandin’s account of how to make a pig fall in love. But it isn’t just the producer side: not unreasonably. Grandin and the publisher of Animals in Translation must have bet that the average reader would not be offended by the story of farmers masturbating pigs, a little embarrassed maybe, but not put off, especially if the tone was titillating and the animals were made fun of and caricatured as liking the experience and not being physically injured in the process. But in case the reader got confused, Grandin inserts into her account a reminder that “this is a business we’re talking about.” Well, thinks the squirmy reader suppressing embarrassment, then I’m okay with it.

Since legally and socially, manipulating a farmed animal sexually for business purposes is considered neither criminal nor immoral, neither a “sexual assault” nor an act of bestiality in the lewd sense, what does get under people’s skin? What constitutes an interspecies “sex crime” in today’s world? In 2003, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of “a troubled young man” named Michael Bessigano.11 He was prosecuted for stealing a chicken and killing her in a motel room while forcing sex on her. Previously Bessigano had been convicted of felony theft and cruelty to animals for killing a dog and having sex with geese. In other words, this was a case of wanton sexual abuse of an animal stolen from the legal owner by “a troubled young man” – a deviant – rather than an instance of a normal man doing legitimated sexual things to a hen in the line of business.

Law and Disorder: The Strange Status of Sentient Property

The legal distinction between interspecies sex for business and interspecies sex for personal pleasure is part of a system of laws and mores in which cruel and obscene animal farming practices are excluded from the legal censure that applies to acts of animal cruelty performed by individuals who cannot claim economic justification for their behavior. In Beyond the Law, attorney David J. Wolfson explains that in the United States, many states have enacted laws exempting from state anticruelty statutes any acts deemed “accepted,” “common,” “customary,” or “normal” farming practices.12 Since virtually everything that is done to farmed animals is in some degree cruel, painful, injurious and degrading, the only way animal farming can proceed is by placing the entire enterprise beyond the law, shielded in a false jargon of “humane treatment” and “animal welfare.”

A case study by Piers Beirne and colleagues, “Horse Maiming in the English Countryside: Moral Panic, Human Deviance, and the Social Construction of Victimhood,” is instructive.13 The authors analyze the ambiguities and contradictions in the public attitude toward assaults on domestic animals, exemplified by the response to a series of horse maimings in rural Hampshire, in England, in the 1990s. Genital mutilation seems to have been the most common form of attack on the horses, who were slashed and cut by unidentified knife-wielding assailants. Noting that “horses and many other animals have been assaulted in England for centuries,” the authors speculate on why this particular series of assaults evoked such a powerful response from the media, the police and the public, and they are interested in understanding how the horses themselves, being the primary victims in the case, figured in the outrage fueled by the attacks.14

The authors observe that the animal victims of an assault are typically relegated to a realm of invisibility in the panics in which they figure. Their roles “tend to be passive and their voices peripheral to the main script.”15 They are not the central characters in the narrative. The human owners of the assaulted animals are much more likely than the animals to be commiserated by the community and the press as the victims, especially when, as in this case, the owners are well-off, “respectable” people who suffered a business loss.

At the same time, in the horse maiming case, certain horses and their plight did seem to occupy the central role of victim. The fact that some horses were identified by name, plus other evidence of empathy, suggested that at least some owners were genuinely distressed that their animals had suffered pain, wounds, terror, and in one or two cases, death. Still, the authors say: “Clearly, malicious injury to a horse is not usually regarded as equivalent to the intentional infliction of damage on other forms of fast transportation.” The horses are property; and yet, “Animals, like human slaves, are afforded, in law, the strange status of sentient property.” The authors speculate on whether the moral ambiguities in this case suggest “traces of guilt, unease and defensiveness about the treatment of animals” below the surface. 16

Whether guilt played a part in the public’s response to the horse maimings, it seems that the prevailing sentiment was less about the horses and more of a fear that an assault on a horse could portend an assault on a human being. The meaning of the mysterious and anonymous assaults, the authors surmise, mattered more to people than the assaults themselves, more than the horses and their suffering meant to them. This view, say the authors, “dulls our ability to see assaults on horses as serious in their own right.” From a speciesist perspective, “It’s all about us.”17

The authors stress the unusualness of the horse maiming episode generating so much publicity and moral outrage given that horse owners routinely inflict all kinds of horrible injuries on horses for personal and professional gain without opposition. Thoroughbred racehorses like all animal investments are treated “like machines: ‘they have a job to do,’” and making them suffer is no obstacle.18 At the same time, characterizing animals as having “a job to do” implies that they are also perceived as having not just a mechanical function, but a responsibility toward their owner – why else were they born? Betty MacDonald in her 1945 memoir about her life as a chicken farmer, The Egg and I, put this stratagem in comic terms: “If a hen is lazy or uncooperative or disagreeable you can chop off her head and relieve the situation once and for all. ‘If that’s the way you feel, then take that!’ you say, severing her head with one neat blow.”19

Such shiftiness is an old story. Whenever convenient in the rhetoric of exploitation, the “sentient property” is assigned agency and obligation, even complicity in being demeaned, imprisoned, tortured and killed for human benefit. So perhaps in this light, interspecies sex should not be condemned, unequivocally and categorically, as shameful, sinful, or criminal so long as the animal wants to have sex with a human being, or at least enjoys the experience when it happens, whether the circumstances are “business” or “pleasure.” As long as the sex isn’t “cruel,” why be concerned?

If the Sex Isn’t Cruel, Then It’s Okay?

In Dearest Pet: On Bestiality, Midas Dekkers notes that the sex life of domestic animals is “completely organized by human beings.” That said, he believes that “as long as none of those involved suffers pain, no form of sex should be seen as pathological, bad or mad.”20 What is unacceptable is sex with small animals such as chickens and rabbits: such sex, he says, “automatically involves sadism.” In addition to sexual abuse of small animals, Dekkers documents the severe internal injuries that have been diagnosed in cows and calves as a result of being raped by men using everything from their own bodies to pitchforks. He describes men getting revenge on female farmed animals who refuse their advances, showing another aspect of the link between nonconsensual sex and the human penchant for vengeful violence. He cites a French farmer “who thought that many of his chickens and turkeys were dying in suspicious circumstances.” 21 He persuades us that such circumstances are not uncommon.

What brought Dekkers’ book to light in the English-speaking world, following its translation into English, was the publication, in 2001, of an essay by philosopher Peter Singer, the author of Animal Liberation , published in 1975, called “Heavy Petting” in the online sex magazine Nerve.22 Prompted by Dekkers’ book, Singer shared the author’s opinion that the central issue in any sexual encounter between humans and other animals is whether it involves cruelty, meaning coercion and/or the infliction of physical pain and bodily harm on the animal, regardless of the situation in which the encounter takes place. Like Dekkers, Singer argues that sex between humans and nonhuman animals does not always have to involve cruelty. It may in some cases be a mutually satisfying experience for both parties, and there are instances in which a sexual encounter is sought or initiated by, rather than imposed upon, an animal, as when a household dog rubs himself against the legs of a human being. This contention made many people angry, though for different reasons.

Animal rights advocates were so upset by “Heavy Petting” that some wanted Singer to be exiled from the animal liberation movement of which he is often called the “father.” Philosopher Tom Regan, the author of The Case for Animal Rights, published in 1983, argued that the morality of bodily contact cannot be reduced to Singer’s utilitarian parameters of pain and pleasure alone. 23 Indeed, I would be concerned that reducing the morality of bodily contact to pain versus involuntary sexual arousal would legitimize Temple Grandin’s stance on how to make a pig fall in love . . . “as long as nobody gets hurt.” But even if the pigs in Grandin’s account were not physically injured or made to feel pain by the men masturbating them for business purposes, the events she describes constitute a situation within a total context of injuring and abusing them for bacon and pork. Imagine how an uncooperative pig gets treated whenever she or he refuses to “stand for the man.” In my opinion, the abusiveness of the whole ordeal includes using the defenseless bodies of animals to produce babies whose life is only or mainly to suffer, and whose only reason for being alive is to be made dead.

The two main grievances expressed by animal rights advocates in response to Singer’s essay were that it discredited our movement in the eyes of the public, and that nonhuman animals, even in privileged domestic circumstances, are not in a position to give informed consent to sexual encounters with humans, given the inherent constraints of captivity: the limited options, inability to escape, physical coercion, and psychological pressure that captivity imposes on a captive individual. A nonhuman animal cannot give or withhold verbal consent to such intimate manhandling, and the majority of domesticated animals are isolated from normal sexual contact with members of their own species. That a captive animal may occasionally show sexual interest in a human being is more likely due to a lack of opportunity for any other outlet.

An Offence to Human Status and Dignity

Mainstream journalists had other objections. The primary objection to “bestiality” and the notion that interspecies sex is not automatically immoral was that sex between humans and nonhumans, regardless of the circumstances, including rape, is “an offence to our status and dignity as human beings.” Kathryn Lopez, in National Review, railed against Singer’s suggestion that “humans ain’t nothing special.”24 She was more incensed by that idea and by Singer’s use of four-letter words than she was by his depiction of the institutionalized torture inflicted on hens so that people can eat their eggs and the agony they endure in being sexually assaulted by men for sadistic pleasure. Singer dared to declare that sexually assaulting a hen for personal gratification, malignant as that is, “is no worse than what egg producers do to their hens all the time.”25

Book cover for: The Holocaust and the Henmaid's Tale

Peter Berkowitz, writing in The New Republic, complained that, for Singer, it appeared that “the only consideration we need bear in mind in using animals to satisfy our sexual desire is whether we are causing cruelty,”26 as if to say that cruelty (or at least cruelty to animals, like the animals themselves in his view) is little more than a pesky footnote in the ethical account of humanity. Berkowitz was more aggrieved by the idea that other creatures have a dignity that links them to us than by the cruelty we inflict on them without a shred of compassion or restraint, which is exactly how hens are treated by the egg industry, which Singer mentioned to show just how deeply embedded in human life obscenity toward nonhuman animals actually is and how arbitrary our moral demarcations are. Asked in an interview whether he agreed with me that “milking” and artificially inseminating parent turkeys in modern food production are examples of humanity’s bestial behavior in areas normally regarded as sexless and innocuous, Singer replied, “Yes, we draw the lines in strange places. That’s what Karen’s point is all about.”27

That point is what my book The Holocaust and the Henmaid’s Tale: A Case for Comparing Atrocities , published in 2005, is all about – the moral lines we draw, and why. 28 The “henmaid” in the title is an allusion to Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale . In Atwood’s novel, women are valued (by men) only if their ovaries are viable, and they are at the mercy of their keepers, their rapists – ordinary men controlling society with the help of female collaborators. When one day I was describing to a librarian how hens are treated by the egg industry, he said it sounded chillingly like The Handmaid’s Tale.29 As soon as he said this, the title of my book was born. The henmaid symbolizes the billions of birds who at this moment, and every moment, are imprisoned in the poultry and egg industry. More broadly, she symbolizes the individuals of all species who suffer and die at our mercy, every creature who is reduced to the level of an insentient object in the obscene universes of suffering that our species is so adept at organizing.

An Unnatural Order

A.I. Chair & Colossus

A.I. Chair & Colossus
Patent #3,8880,122;

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From equipment catalog of International A.I. Inc.

One-Man Tom Milking Bench

One-Man Tom Milking Bench
Patent #3,872,869;

"All of these features found on our One-Man Tom Milking Bench lend themselves to the ability of one person to collect the highest quality semen, free of fecal, urates or other spermicidal material."

From equipment catalog of International A.I. Inc.

As for literal interspecies sexual assault, we should ask ourselves whether the actions of a sadist toward a hen in a hotel room are truly more evil and despicable than the actions of a researcher working in a sex laboratory for the turkey industry. Here, for example, is a reproductive physiologist named Annie Donoghue speaking to a reporter with The Washington Post about what she and her team do to adult male turkeys and how she regards this work: “Electro-ejaculation isn’t as efficient as hand massage.” The lab turkeys, she explains, “are ‘trained’ to respond to a ‘milker’ stroking his [the turkey’s] tail feathers in a suggestive manner. ‘The turkeys are very, very calm and unruffled throughout the procedure. . . . ‘It’s almost like they line up sometimes. Some of them hang around afterward, hoping for a second chance, I guess.’"30

A turkey forcibly being 'inseminated'.
Photo source: Tamil Nadu Agricultural University

By this account, the turkeys are compliant sex partners with their captors, and an involuntary physiological response to a physical stimulus amounts to the victim’s consent. By contrast, Jim Mason, the author of An Unnatural Order,31 described his experience of “breaking” turkey hens at a Butterball breeding facility in Missouri and “milking” the male birds.32

Two men herded them--a hundred or so at a time--into a makeshift pen along one side of the house. From there, these "drivers" forced five to six birds at a time into a chute, which opened onto a 5 X 5-foot concrete-lined pit sunken into the floor of the house. Three men worked belly-deep in the pit: Two grabbed birds from the chute and held them for the third, Joe, the inseminator.

They put me to work first in the pit, grabbing and "breaking" hens. One "breaks" a hen by holding her breast down, legs down, tail up so that her cloaca or "vent" opens. This makes it easier for the inseminator to insert the tube and deliver a "shot" of semen.

"Breaking" hens was hard, fast, dirty work. I had to reach into the chute, grab a hen by the legs, and hold her--ankles crossed--in one hand. Then, as I held her on the edge of the pit, I wiped my other hand over her rear, which pushed up her tail feathers and exposed her vent opening. The birds weighed 20 to 30 pounds, were terrified, and beat their wings and struggled in panic. They were very strong and hard to hold.

With the hen thus "broken," the inseminator stuck his thumb right under her vent and pushed, which opened the vent and forced the end of the oviduct a bit. Into this, he inserted the semen tube and released the semen. Then both men let go and the hen flopped away onto the house floor. . . .

The semen came from the "tom house" where the males are housed. Here "Bill" extracted the semen bird by bird. He worked on a bench which has a vacuum pump and a rubber-padded clamp to hold the tom by the legs. From the vacuum pump, a small rubber hose ran to a "handset." With it, Bill “milked” each tom. The handset was fitted with glass tubes and a syringe body; it sucked semen from the tom and poured it into a syringe.

I helped Bill for a while. My job was to catch a tom by the legs, hold him upside down, lift him by the legs and one wing, and set him up on the bench on his chest/neck, with his rear-end sticking up facing Bill. He took each tom, locked his crossed feet and legs into the padded clamp, then lifted his leg over the bird's head and neck to hold him. Bill had the handset on his right hand. With his left hand, he squeezed the tom's vent until it opened up and the white semen oozed forth. He held the sucking end of a glass tube just below the opening and sucked up the few drops of semen. We did this over and over, bird by bird, until the syringe body filled up. Each syringe body was already loaded with a couple of cubic centimeters of "extender," a watery, bluish mixture of antibiotics and saline solution. As each syringe was filled, I ran it over to the hen house and handed it to the inseminator and crew. . . .

The insemination crew did two houses a day—6,000 hens a day. Figuring a 10-hour day, that's 600 hens per hour, ten a minute. Two breakers did ten hens a minute, or each breaker "broke" five hens a minute--one hen every 12 seconds.

This pace pressured the drivers to keep a steady flow of birds into the chute to supply the pit. Having been through this week after week, the birds feared the chute and bulked and huddled up. The drivers literally kicked them into the chute. The idea seemed to be to terrify at least one bird, who squawked, beat her wings in panic, and terrified the others in her group. In this way the drivers created such pain and terror behind the birds that it forced them to plunge ahead to the pain and terror they knew to be in the chute and pit ahead. . . .

One outcome of this ordeal for the turkeys is a condition called deep pectoral myopathy. In this condition, the chest muscle dies, leading to strangulation of the blood vessels within the muscle. It is the result of the birds’ abnormal size and bodyweight, the stress of food deprivation that is used to counteract the pathologies that interfere with their ability to be fertile, the chronic terror they endure without relief, and their “struggling and wing beating associated with catching for artificial insemination.”33

In 1994 I attended the First International Symposium on the Artificial Insemination of Poultry, a U.S. Department of Agriculture/poultry industry symposium at the University of Maryland in College Park with attendees from around the world.34 I learned a lot about the animal production business at the symposium– the technologies involved and the moral tone of this mostly hidden world, but one image that stands out in my mind especially is a color slide that was shown to the audience of a turkey “milker” in a breeding facility with L O V E printed in red magic marker on his knuckles.

It isn’t only the turkey food industry that is based on interspecies sexual assault. In More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality, I describe the pornography of the turkey hunting industry in which hunters openly brag about the erotic thrill they get from mimicking turkey courtship behavior, imitating a “hot hen” so that a lovesick tom will “offer its head and neck for a shot.” These people joke freely in their literature and in the sports sections of the mainstream media about killing the birds for “love.” “Let it be stated now that, because of the fowl he loves, the technology of hunting has advanced by light-years. There are turkey-hunting seminars and videos, new types of camouflage, new firearms, new ways to use old firearms. And new ways to call turkeys to their doom.” 35

Unnatural Suffering and Ritual Pathologies

Since we attribute to animals all kinds of things that have little or nothing to do with who they actually are, it is not surprising that they are regularly invoked as metaphors for our own out-of-control sexual behavior. This is almost laughable given that the majority of other animal species have specific breeding seasons whose purpose is to perpetuate their own species into the next generation. It is they who model the Puritanical standard of living decorously according to the “natural order of the universe,” the “procreative intent” required of Christians, and the duty not to produce “monstrous offspring” inspired by the Devil.36 It is notable, perhaps, that people who view “bestiality” as an offense to the dignity of human beings have no problem incorporating other animals into themselves by eating them and feeding their infants milk from a nursing cow or goat. Nor do people draw the line at interspecies organ transplantation.

Similarly, ritual animal sacrifice, which may at first seem unrelated to interspecies sexual assault, is not unrelated. Ritual transference of transgressions to a sacrificial animal victim is, in my view, a kind of rape. Just as nonhuman animals are deemed fit receptacles for the depositing of human diseases in biomedical research’s quest for health, so they are deemed suitable receptacles for human sin in the quest for spiritual cleansing. In both cases, the animal victim is made to appear as an aspect of the victimizer’s identity, even a willing participant in being used as a depository for human diseases, sins and vices. Humans, by virtue of a shared verbal language, can challenge the profanation and misappropriation of their bodies, identity and will. A nonhuman animal, such as a hen, is powerless, short of human intercession, to protect herself from being besmirched, as when she is represented by her abusers as an “egg-laying machine” or as a symbolic uterus for the deposition of human spiritual filth.

Today, there is a growing awareness of the many ways in which humans and other animals are related through our common evolutionary heritage and sentience. This awareness is due in no small part to the animal rights movement as well as to sectors of the scientific community focusing our attention on animal cognition and ethology. But there are ways in which humans and nonhuman animals radically diverge. It isn’t only that other animals can suffer like us, but that they suffer in ways we can hardly imagine in the perverse conditions we force them to endure that have no basis in their evolutionary experience and that they therefore experience as unnatural suffering.

Interspecies sexual assault, whether by a sadist in a motel room or an electro-ejaculation machine operator in an agribusiness facility, testifies, among other things, to an animus that humans have felt for nonhuman animals through the ages, rooted in our ambivalence toward ourselves for being animals. The problem is deeper than economics and utilitarianism. Other animals are not just our property; they are our scapegoats, innocent victims whom we blame and punish for the angst of being ourselves. We load our transgressions onto them. We insert ourselves into them through genetic surgeries and a thousand other ways to make them conform to our will. We taunt them and demean them and defeat them and impregnate them with our pathologies. This is what the man riding on the back of a sow and doing things to make her “receptive” looks like to me. In this respect, how to make a pig fall in love is instructive.



1. Davis, Karen, “Food Fictions: Review of Farm to Fable by Robert Grillo,” Animals 24-7, December 26, 2016, accessed June 1, 2017, http://www.animals24-7.org/2016/12/26/food-fictions-by-karen-davis-phd.

2. Grandin, Temple, and Catherine Johnson,Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior, New York: Scribner, 2005, 102-104.

3. See, e.g., National Public Radio, “Temple Grandin: The Woman Who Talks to Animals,” Fresh Air, February 5, 2010, accessed June 1, 2017, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123383699.

4. Beirne, Piers, “Rethinking Bestiality: Towards a Concept of Interspecies Sexual Assault,” Theoretical Criminology, 1997: 317-340. These quotes appear on p. 320. Piers introduced the term “interspecies sexual assault” in order to challenge both the pejorative anthropocentricism and the pseudo-liberal tolerance implicit in the term “bestiality,” and to focus attention more accurately and justly on the animal victims of interspecies sexual encounters with humans. Abstract accessed June 1, 2017, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1362480697001003003.

5. Beirne, 321.

6. Davis, Karen, More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality, New York: Lantern Books, 2001, 13-14. Source: William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647, New York: Modern Library College Editions, 1981, 356. Originally published in 1856 under title: History of Plymouth Plantation.

7. Beirne, 321.

8. Dekkers, Midas, Dearest Pet: On Bestiality, Trans. Paul Vincent, London, New York: Verso, 2000.

9. Dekkers, 8-9.

10. Dekkers, 146-147.

11. Yovich, Daniel, “Indiana Man Does Time For Chicken Sex Crime,” Meating Place News, September 9, 2003.

12. Wolfson, David J.,Beyond The Law: Agribusiness and the Systemic Abuse of Animals Raised for Food or Food Production, Farm Sanctuary, 1999, 7.

13. Yates, Roger, Chris Powell, and Piers Beirne, “Horse Maiming in the English Countryside: Moral Panic, Human Deviance, and the Social Construction of Victimhood,” Society & Animals 9.1 (2001): 1-23, abstract accessed June 1, 2017, Horse Maiming in the English Countryside.

14. Yates, et al., 3.

15. Yates, et al., 3.

16. Yates, et al., 13-15.

17. Yates, et al., 16.

18. Yates, et al., 18.

19. MacDonald, Betty, The Egg and I, quoted by Page Smith and Charles Daniel in The Chicken Book: Being an Inquiry into the Rise and Fall, Use and Abuse, Triumph and Tragedy of Gallus Domesticus , Boston: Little, Brown, 1975. 270.

20. Dekkers, 148.

21. Dekkers, 126.

22. Singer, Peter, “Heavy Petting,” Nerve, March 12, 2001, excerpt accessed June 1, 2017, https://www.scribd.com/document/264162868/Heavy-Petting-By-Peter-Singer.

See also Karen Davis, “Bestiality: Animal Liberation or Human License,” accessed June 1, 2017, https://www.upc-online.org/010422bestiality.html. Although Singer makes some important points in this article, he shows too much eagerness to shed an academic persona in favor of a “sexy” persona presumably meant to appeal to the publishers and readers of Nerve. Singer subsequently backed away from supporting “consensual” interspecies sex, under pressure from the animal advocacy community and other critics.

23. Regan, Tom, “Defending Animal Rights from a ‘Defender,’” Animal Rights Online, April 3, 2001, accessed June 1, 2017, http://www.all-creatures.org/aro/nl-20010408-def.html.

24. Lopez, Kathryn Jean, “Peter Singer Strikes Again,” National Review Online, March 5, 2001, accessed June 1, 2017, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/220373/peter-singer-strikes-again-kathryn-jean-lopez.

25. Lopez quotes Singer’s statement from “Heavy Petting.”

26. Berkowitz, Peter, “Puppy Love,” The New Republic Online, March 8, 2001, accessed June 1, 2017, http://www.peterberkowitz.com/articles/puppylove.html.

27. Vaughan, Claudette, “Is This a Dangerous Philosopher? – The Peter Singer Interview,” Vegan Voice (NSW, Australia), December-January, 2002, accessed June 1, 2017, http://www.animalliberationfront.com/ALFront/Interviews/Interview%20with%20Peter%20Singer.htm.

28. Davis, Karen, The Holocaust and the Henmaid’s Tale: A Case for Comparing Atrocities , New York: Lantern Books, 2005.

29. Atwood, Margaret, The Handmaid’s Tale, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1985. Made into a television series that premiered April 26, 2017. See “The Handmaid’s Tale (TV Series”), accessed June 1, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Handmaid%27s_Tale_(TV_series).

30. Jones, Tamara, “The Stuffing of Scandal; In Which We Find Juicy Tidbits About the National Turkey,” The Washington Post, November 28, 1996, F1, F4-F5. Full text of the article online requires a subscription. See https://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-809896.html.

31. Mason, Jim, An Unnatural Order:Uncovering the Roots of Our Domination of Nature and Each Other, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.

32. Mason, Jim, “In the Turkey Breeding Factory,” Poultry Press 4.4 (Fall-Winter) 1994, 1-2, 7, published under the byline “Frank Observer,” accessed June 1, 2017, https://www.upc-online.org/fall94/breeding.html.

33. Pattison, Mark, ed., The Health of Poultry, Ames: Iowa State University Press, 19, 29.

34. Davis, Karen, “UPC Attends First International Symposium on the Artificial Insemination of Poultry,” Poultry Press 4.4 (Fall-Winter) 1994, accessed June 1, 2017, http://www.upc-online.org/fall94/aiconfer.html. See also Bakst, M.R., and G. J. Wishart, eds.,Proceedings: First International Symposium on the Artificial Insemination of Poultry, Savoy, IL: The Poultry Science Association, 1994.

35. Stout, David, “They Sit and Wait So Others Can Serve,”The New York Times, November 24, 1996, E3, quoted in Karen Davis, More Than a Meal, 83.

36. See Note 5.



KAREN DAVIS, PhD is the Founder and President of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl including a sanctuary for chickens in Virginia. She is the author of Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry ; More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality; The Holocaust and the Henmaid’s Tale: a Case for Comparing Atrocities ; A Home for Henny; and Instead of Chicken, Instead of Turkey: A Poultryless “Poultry” Potpourri .

KAREN DAVIS has chapters in Sister Species: Women, Animals, and Social Justice; Experiencing Animal Minds: An Anthology of Animal-Human Encounters; Defining Critical Animal Studies: An Intersectional Social Justice Approach to Liberation; Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations; Critical Animal Studies: Thinking the Unthinkable; Critical Theory and Animal Liberation; Terrorists or Freedom Fighters: Reflections on the Liberation of Animals; and Meat Culture (2016). In 2002 Karen Davis was inducted into the National Animal Rights Hall of Fame for Outstanding Contributions to Animal Liberation. http://www.upc-online.org/karenbio.htm

Karen Davis, PhD, President
United Poultry Concerns
12325 Seaside Road, PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405
Office: 757-678-7875
Email: Karen@UPC-online.org

Website: http://www.upc-online.org

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