In a move seen as a big win for animal rights activists, on January 1 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began classifying animal cruelty as a Group A offense — just like homicide, arson and assault — and a Crime Against Society.

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It defines cruelty to animals as “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly taking an action that mistreats or kills any animal without just cause, such as torturing, tormenting, mutilation, maiming, poisoning, or abandonment.”

The data collected in 2016 will be available to the public next year.

Previously the FBI collected animal cruelty crimes in the “other” category in the vast crime database known as the National Incident-Based Reporting System. For years animal welfare advocate Mary Lou Randour lobbied the agency to move it to its own category. In 2014 it agreed. The changes have now gone into effect.

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"These are creatures that suffer and we know their capacity to suffer,” Randour told the Washington Post last week. “In most societies it’s recognized that creatures that are dependent on others, whether the elderly or children or animals, need to be protected.”

The FBI's decision to track these crimes could yield a side benefit: helping to identify people who might commit violent acts in the future.

In a January 2015 podcast, FBI Unit Chief Amy Blasher said animal welfare advocates “believe animal cruelty was an early indicator of violent crime and that’s really what led the discussions with our law enforcement partners throughout the country.”

A study of at-risk children showed that those who were classified at age 6 to 12 as cruel to animals were more than twice as likely to be sent to the juvenile authorities for a violent offense, according to a report from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“There is overwhelming evidence that [animal abuse] is linked to crimes against people, including violent crimes and domestic violence,” Randour told the Washington Post. “It’s not about protecting people or animals, it’s protecting them both.”

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There will be four categories of anima cruelty crimes: simple or gross neglect, intentional abuse and torture, organized abuse — such as dog fighting and cock fighting — and animal sexual abuse.

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Muriel Vega is a writer with a passion for budget travel and staying safe while abroad. A Georgia State University graduate, she has over 6 years of editorial experience and has written for The Guardian, The Atlantic, The Billfold, among other outlets. In her free time, you can find her baking pies, playing with her two dogs and cat, or planning her next vacation. She spends way too much time on Twitter, one of her favorite social media channels. Her favorite safety tip: Make sure you have all the necessary shots before you go abroad.