THE PSYCHOLOGICAL CONSEQUENCES OF KILLING

1st June 2017

Adjournment speech.

Perpetration induced traumatic stress.

PERPETRATION-INDUCED TRAUMATIC STRESS

The Hon. MARK PEARSON (16:04): Today I extend the discussion on the deleterious effects certain occupations have on our personal wellbeing. Our first thoughts, naturally, turn to our emergency services such as our police, ambulance personnel, firefighters and the like. But what about the less visual jobs—the less traditional jobs that, when we pause to think about it, 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 “Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: The Psychological Consequences of Killing”, Rachel MacNair creates the new term perpetration-induced traumatic stress [PITS]. PITS, MacNair states, is a form of post traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]. 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 cafe and killed Man Monis, on the other hand, would be sufferers of PITS. Sufferers of PITS, argues MacNair, include 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 is 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 US found that 85 per cent 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 a 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, it is widely known that offenders that commit acts of animal cruelty often use it as a stepping stone to cruelty inflicted upon humans. The police recognise this as a serious matter. A most notorious example of this is the case of Anita Cobby’s killers, who enjoyed committing atrocious acts of bestiality, torture and killing of 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. 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 and the slaughterhouse workers who have this enormous burden placed upon their shoulders.