Tuesday, March 01, 2016
Proponents of a bill that would ban the sexual abuse of animals told lawmakers Monday that New Hampshire is one of only a few states that still legally permits the practice, creating a de facto haven for local and out-of-state perpetrators.
“Please pass this bill and give law enforcement and prosecutors in this state the tool they need to enforce these laws,” Rep. Katherine Rogers, a Concord Democrat and the bill’s prime sponsor, told members of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. “It’s unfortunately something that’s needed, and New Hampshire shouldn’t be one of the few states that doesn’t have it.”
The state is one of just 10, including Vermont, that does not explicitly prohibit sexual contact with animals. Perpetrators are still subject to charges of animal cruelty, a misdemeanor, but those can be hard to prove, and animal advocates insist they don’t go far enough.
Rogers’s bipartisan bill, however, has drawn criticism from the farming community, whose representatives, including Commissioner of Agriculture Lorraine Merrill, urged committee members to consider the consequences such legislation could have on normal animal husbandry practices. The bill would currently exempt just medical procedures and commercial farming, which omits people like subsistence farmers and those who might own a dairy cow or two, they argue. They suggest reworking the bill or abandoning it altogether for now.
“Just because the word ‘bestiality’ is not used in our statutes does not mean it’s not covered,” said Robert Johnson, a lobbyist for the New Hampshire Farm Bureau.
Bestiality is sexual activity between a human and an animal, usually a dog.
Jeremy Hoffman, a Virginia police detective and expert on the topic, insisted that farmers of any kind aren’t likely to be affected by the law.
“I don’t believe that’s in the spirit or the intent of the bill, and I can’t foresee any reasonable prosecutor attempting to use this bill in that fashion,” he said, responding to the concerns.
Bestiality drew attention in New Hampshire in 2014 when law enforcement investigating the homicide of a Keene man found video clips of his roommate having sex with dogs. That man, Nicholas Coll, was charged with animal cruelty and ultimately sentenced to one year in jail for having sex with two dogs, according to the Keene Sentinel. He was not required to register as a sex offender.
New Hampshire does appear, at least online, as a destination for those interested in the practice. Hoffman said one internet forum had 194 separate advertisements as of last week, with more than 650 responses. Two threads specifically dealt with the need to kill Rogers’s legislation.
“Without meaningful legislation, New Hampshire’s numbers will continue to grow,” Hoffman said.
No one spoke in support of bestiality at the hearing Monday.
Supporters of the bill, including the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic Violence, argue that anyone who has sexual contact with an animal for his or her own personal gratification should face felony charges. The bill as written would impose a Class B felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison. Coalition spokeswoman Amanda Grady Sexton said committee members have discussed amending the bill down to a misdemeanor, at least for a first offense. They will vote on that Tuesday, she said, adding that the group opposes the change.
Several proponents suggested that the abuse of animals is a common precursor to human abuse, and that this kind of behavior could lead be a “gateway drug” to human sexual abuse.
David Rotman, a Merrimack County prosecutor, said a ban would make it easier to prosecute animal sexual abuse, as the current animal cruelty statute requires proof of physical harm, which, like human sexual abuse, is often difficult to prove.
“If the Legislature wants to criminalize bestiality, I think a statute that specifically addresses these actions would more effectively put the public on notice about what’s prohibited, and ensure more effective prosecution,” Rotman said.
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)