• The Psychological Consequences of Killing

    Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: The Psychological Consequences of Killing

    I rise today to extend the discussion on the deleterious effects certain occupations have on our personal well-being.  Our first thoughts, naturally, turn to our emergency services such as our police, ambo’s, fire fighters, and the like. But what about the less ‘visual’ jobs, the less traditional jobs that, when we pause to think about, have very serious trauma attached to them. One such occupation that has, to my knowledge, never been considered seriously in this country, is that of the slaughterhouse worker.

    In the study In Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: The Psychological Consequences of Killing Rachel MacNair gives rise to the term Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress (PITS). PITS, MacNair states is a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However the distinction between the two is that PITS is caused not by being a victim or rescuer in trauma, but by being an active participant in causing trauma.

    Take the Martin Place siege for example, according to MacNair the survivors and witnesses would be sufferers of PTSD. The police, who stormed the Lindt café and killed Man Monis, on the other hand, would be sufferers of PITS.

    Sufferers of PITS, argues MacNair, is extended to slaughterhouse workers, where it is socially acceptable and in fact expected for them to cause trauma, including death. MacNair describes the symptoms of PITS as including drug and alcohol abuse, anxiety, depression, increased paranoia, a sense of disintegration, as well as dissociation or amnesia.

    This less publicly discussed or understood psychological trauma suffered by slaughterhouses workers is not accidental. In fact, one would say it iss intentional as society becomes increasingly distanced from the realities of modern day food production and the business of killing animals for food. A study conducted recently in the U.S found that 85% of the meat-eating participants stated that if they personally had to kill an animal to obtain meat, they would not be able to do it. However, they were happy to pay another person to perform the task of killing, thereby acknowledging the trauma associated with such an occupation placing the burden on the shoulders of the slaughterhouse worker.

    As Paul McCartney once said “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian”. The business of killing living, sentient beings on mass scale is a violent, bloody task. Not only do these slaughterhouse workers face serious physical health hazards daily, but they also experience large-scale violence and death that most of us will never have to, nor want to encounter.

    In our society, we have a common understanding that taking pleasure in the cruel death of a helpless animal is an antisocial and potentially psychotic characteristic. In fact, its widely know that offenders that commit acts of animal cruelty often use it as a stepping stone to cruelty inflicted upon humans. A most notorious example of this is in the case of Anita Cobby’s killers, who enjoyed committing atrocious acts of bestiality, torture and killing on sheep, goats and other animals.

    A research paper published in 2008 by Jennifer Dillard titled A Slaughterhouse Nightmare: Psychological Harm Suffered by Slaughterhouse Employees set a precedent by calling for legal redress for slaughterhouse workers due to psychological trauma. This trauma is directly caused by their daily experience of “large-scale violence and death” within an institutional culture that does little to reduce animal or human suffering.

    This is an interesting notion, if we think about the successful class action against James Hardie in relation to asbestos related suffering and deaths.  It’s not unreasonable to consider that just as soldiers fighting in wars suffer PTSD deserve acknowledgement, support and assistance, that slaughterhouse workers too should have this level of support. Will we see a class action brought forward against the wealthy corporations by those paid to commit violence on animals for PTSD, PITS, alcohol abuse or drug abuse?

    The social effects of slaughterhouses are harmful and far-reaching, and the legal regime and the general public must act to reduce those deleterious effects on society. It affects families, communities, and relationships. The strongest message we as citizens or consumers can send is that we do not want to participate in an industry that profits from suffering, pain and death. We owe it to the people and the animals caught up in the business of killing.

Comments are closed.