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A Michigan State University health physicist was charged Monday with committing bestiality against a dog, an accusation that one expert said reflects that this crime against nature happens more often than realized.

Joseph Alan Hattey, 51, of Holt, allegedly penetrated a dog with both his hands and penis, according to the Michigan Attorney General's Office.

A witness reported the alleged crimes to the Ingham County Sheriff's Department and Animal Control, said Andrea Bitely, spokeswoman for the Michigan Attorney General's office. 

The sheriff then brought the case to Attorney General Bill Schuette, who charged Hattey with two counts of sodomy, a 15-year felony, for allegedly assaulting Flash, a basset hound. It was not clear from the complaint if the dog was Hattey's pet.

Hattey is not alleged to have conducted the acts on campus or with an animal owned by the university.

School spokeswoman Emily Guerrant said the MSU Police Department informed the university on April 17 of a criminal investigation against Hattey, a health physicist with the Environmental Health and Safety Unit.

Hattey, whose job did not involve work with students, patients or animals, was immediately put on administrative suspension, pending the investigation, Guerrant said.

"The university has been and will continue to cooperate with law enforcement officials on this matter,"  said Guerrant, adding that Michigan State Police is providing digital forensic support in the investigation. 

The charges against Hattey come on the heels of the sex abuse scandal involving Larry Nassar, a former MSU doctor who assaulted young women under the guise of a medical treatment.

One public relations expert said the charges add to the university's image problem in the wake of the Nassar case.

"It's just another black eye for MSU," said Darci McConnell, president of Detroit-based McConnell Communications. "It's someone who is employed by the university and getting in trouble for extreme behavior related to sexual assault."

The incidents allegedly occurred between Jan. 7 and March 8.

The dog is in the custody of Ingham County Animal Control.

Charges were authorized by Magistrate Mark Blumer of 55th District Court. Following his arraignment Monday, officials gave Hattey a $5,000 bond, according to Bitely. His next court dates are June 14 for a pre-exam conference and June 21 for a preliminary hearing.

Bestiality is more common than commonly believed, experts say.

"It is more prevalent than people imagine," said Andy Seltz, vice president of the field services team for the Michigan Humane Society. "It is underground, out of the mainstream. You don’t come upon it too often, but it is out there."

Not long ago, people were offering and trading animals for sex or advertising bestiality meet-ups through Craigslist personal ads, Seltz said. But that recently changed following an act of Congress aimed at stopping sex trafficking and eliminating one place for those who seek sex with animals. 

There are still several websites where people who have sex with animals go to find victims and that is why the Humane Society of the United States is working to make bestiality illegal in all states and update antiquated laws, including in Michigan, said Leighann Lassiter, animal cruelty policy director.

"A lot of laws written many years ago haven’t kept up with technology, which allows people to find, sell and trade animals for sex," Lassiter said.

Statistics are hard to find since police document offenses under "other" crimes or animal cruelty. A category for bestiality was created in 2016 for federal Uniform Crime Reports, but not all departments participate, Lassiter said.

Research shows those who abuse animals are either sexually attracted to them, domestic violence batterers who use it to coerce their partners. or curiosity seekers, said M. Jenny Edwards, a Washington-based researcher and field expert in animal sex abuse.

She added that there is a correlation between bestiality and sex crimes against humans.

"it's not a predictor," Edwards said, "but there is definitely a correlation (between) people who sexually abuse animal and sexually abuse people."

Bestiality is outlawed in most states in the U.S., according to a 2017 Table of State Animal Sexual Assault Laws published in the Michigan State University College of Law by Rebecca F. Wisch

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com

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