Getting it on with your four-legged friends is a crime in New South Wales carrying up to 14 years imprisonment! Even attempting to get cosy carries up to five years. The Crimes Act 1900 does not explicitly define the crime of bestiality. Because it is a crime that is relatively rare, it has not developed the complexity of human sexual assault legislation but the caselaw tells us that it is any form of sexual intercourse with an animal. There is no requirement for penile penetration to make it an act of bestiality or attempt and the offence is not confined to men.


The penalties are potentially severe and yet gaol terms are relatively rare. General consensus is that a perpetrator needs psychological help rather than punishment. As the English Court of Appeal said in R v Higson (1984) 6 CR App R 20 “It is the accused who needs help, not the dog.”

Recent cases have attracted both publicity and gaol terms such as Jeffrey David Lee who was sentenced to two years, fully suspended and good behavior bonds such as the matter of Jenna Driscoll in 2016 and complex case of Dean Sellenthin who was accused of and pled guilty to raping a golden retriever and other dogs who is due to be sentenced on 1 November 2019. Sellenthin will be sentenced on a range of other serious charges that will see his lawyer fighting to keep him out of gaol.

The more serious allegations are often seen alongside other serious charges. In September 2005, Brendan McMahon was charged with 18 counts of aggravated cruelty to animals, two counts of cannabis possession and one count of bestiality. The bestiality was ultimately dropped over a lack of evidence as to what was used in penetration.

A psychiatric report found that McMahon believed he was communicating with the rabbits via his “third eye”, whilst being under the influence of methamphetamine. Magistrate Ian Barnett found McMahon guilty on all charges. He was sentenced to 16 months prison, with a non-parole period of 12 months. His Honour said no one should be allowed to commit such offences and get away with them by stating they were “using ice at the time”.

Generally, in keeping with the idea that assistance and rehabilitation are more important for the perpetrator and the community, the Courts tend to look to alternatives to full time custody. As with any matter they look at the circumstances surrounding the offence, criminal history, character and the perpetrator’s personal circumstances. The general penalty range would range from a non-conviction Conditional Release Orders to Intensive Correction Orders.


In order to be found guilty of bestiality, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that you participated or attempted to participate in sexual activity with an animal.

It is a defence to show necessity or duress.

For example the case of Sydney Joseph Bourne, who was charged and convicted with aiding and abetting buggery after forcing his wife to perform acts with their dog. At law, his wife was the principal offender but could not be convicted because she acted under duress from Bourne. Bourne appealed but the appeal was dismissed.

A similar case is currently before the Court in Tamworth but is subject to a suppression order on the basis that a female involve may have been subjected to duress…defined as threats to induce behavior which an accused person believes will take place unless they do as demanded.


Naturally, talk to us before you make a statement to police. The consequences for offences such as these are serious but there are often underpinning psychological issues as well. It may be that an application for a mental health discharge or a plea is appropriate to your situation. We are trauma aware and keen to protect your privacy while the criminal proceedings are on foot and can instruct expert psychologists and psychiatrists to for reports.

National Criminal Lawyers can provide you with the right advice as to defending the charge, entering plea or looking at a mental health angle. Our lawyers have almost 40 years combined experience defending serious criminal charges and a proven track record in obtaining good results.

Come talk to us at National Criminal Lawyers. We appear in all courts across New South Wales and interstate as well.



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