Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vt., has signed a measure that explicitly bans human sexual abuse of animals, a crime not previously prohibited.

The new law, H. 503, defines, prohibits and establishes penalties for the sexual abuse of animals; it includes language taken from H.325, a bill sponsored by Rep. Curt McCormack, D-Burlington to ban animal sexual abuse. Its enactment strengthens misdemeanor and felony level penalties for killing and committing violent crimes against animals. The bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate.

Barry Londeree, Vermont state director for the Humane Society of the United States and a Burlington resident, said: “We thank Representative McCormack, members of the House and Senate Committees on Judiciary and the General Assembly for their support in strengthening Vermont’s animal protection laws. The sexual abuse of animals is both an abhorrent crime against defenseless creatures and an indicator of an individual’s propensity to commit other violent, predatory sex crimes. Vermont’s citizens and animals are better protected thanks to the passage of this legislation.”

Forty-four states have passed laws prohibiting sexual abuse of animals and 21 states treat bestiality as a felony-level offense. Prior to the enactment of H.503, Vermont was the only state in the Northeast lacking a clear prohibition.

Unfortunately, bestiality remains legal in the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Kentucky, New Mexico, Texas (which has a bill pending), West Virginia and Wyoming.

The Vermont Humane Federation, an organization of humane societies and other animal protection groups provided much needed support for the bill. Members of these organizations helped raised public awareness and lobbied their legislators along with the HSUS to enact a ban on animal sexual abuse this year.

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