Definitions

cruelty

cruelty

[kroo-uhl-tee]
cruelty, prevention of. In the 19th cent. many laws were passed in Great Britain and the United States to protect the helpless, especially children, lunatics, and domestic animals, from willful and malicious acts of cruelty. At first, cruelty to animals was deemed criminal only when severe enough to constitute a public nuisance. But in 1822 the British Parliament passed the Martin Act for animal protection, and two years later Richard Martin formed the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The Cruelty to Animals Acts of 1849 and 1854 firmly established protection for animals. Not until 1884 was the first British law passed to protect children from cruelty. This movement to protect the helpless soon spread throughout Europe and to the United States, where the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was formed (1866) by Henry Bergh in New York City. The American Humane Association, for the protection of animals and children, was organized in 1877. In the United States, as in Great Britain, protection of children came after that of animals, the first Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children having been formed in New York City in 1875. In all states, parents guilty of bodily cruelty to, or moral corruption of, their children may now be lawfully punished, and the children may be taken from them to become wards of the state (see child abuse). Societies of both types—for the protection of children and of animals—promote better legislation and enforcement, investigate and report alleged cruelties, establish shelters and sometimes (animal) hospitals, and carry on education against cruelty. While most of these societies are private, philanthropic organizations, some receive public funds.

See R. C. McCrea, The Humane Movement (1910, repr. 1969); L. G. Housden, The Prevention of Cruelty to Children (1955); P. P. Hallie, The Paradox of Cruelty (1969); D. Bakan, Slaughter of the Innocents (1971).

Crime of inflicting physical or emotional injury on a child. The term can denote the use of inordinate physical violence or verbal abuse; the failure to furnish proper shelter, nourishment, medical treatment, or emotional support; incest, rape, or other instances of sexual molestation; and the making of child pornography. Child abuse can cause serious harm to its victims. Estimates of the numbers of children who suffer physical abuse or neglect by parents or guardians range from about 1 percent of all children to about 15 percent, and figures are far higher if emotional abuse and neglect are included. In many cases, the abuser himself suffered abuse as a child. When abuse results in death, evidence of child abuse or battered-child syndrome (e.g., broken bones and lesions, either healed or active) is often used to establish that death was not accidental.

Learn more about child abuse with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Cruelty can be described as indifference to suffering, and even positive pleasure in inflicting it. Sadism can also be related to this form of action or concept.

Cruel ways of inflicting suffering may involve violence, but violence is not necessary for an act to be cruel. For example, if another person is drowning and begging for help, and another person is able to help, but merely watches with disinterest or perhaps mischievous amusement, that person is being cruel — rather than violent.

Cruelty usually carries connotations of supremacy over a submissive or weaker force.

Usage in philosophy and humanities

According to Le Comte de Lautreamont, "For my part, I use my genius to depict the delights of cruelty: delights which are not transitory or artificial..." - because they are primordial and natural. "Cannot genius be allied with cruelty in the secret resolutions of providence? Or, can one, being cruel, not have genius?

According to Friedrich Nietzsche, almost all higher culture comes from the spiritualization of cruelty.

According to Richey Edwards, "The centre of humanity is cruelty / There is never redemption / Any fool can regret yesterday".

According to Ian McEwan, the Booker Prize winner in 1998, "novels are not about 'teaching people how to live, but about showing the possibility of what it's like to be someone else. It's the basis of all sympathy, empathy and compassion. Other people are as alive as you are. Cruelty is a failure of imagination'.

Harvard University Professor Judith N. Shklar's thinking is based on two main beliefs: that cruelty is the greatest evil, and her idea of "liberalism of fear".

Victor Nell, of the Institute for Social and Health Sciences at the University of South Africa, wrote a target article in 2005 entitled "Cruelty's Rewards: The Gratifications of Perpetrators and Spectators".

Usage in law

The term cruelty is often used in law and criminology with regard to the treatment of animals, children, spouses, and prisoners. When cruelty to animals is discussed, it often refers to unnecessary suffering. In criminal law, it refers to punishment, torture, victimization, draconian, and cruel and unusual punishment. In divorce cases, many jurisdictions permit a cause of action for cruel and inhuman treatment.

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