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An old poster depicting cruelty, including selling slaves in Algiers, execution, burning, and other cruelties.

Cruelty is indifference to suffering or pleasure in inflicting suffering. Sadism can also be related to this form of action or concept. Cruel ways of inflicting suffering may involve violence, but affirmative violence is not necessary for an act to be cruel. For example, if a person is drowning and begging for help and another person is able to help with no cost or risk, but merely watches with disinterest or perhaps mischievous amusement, that person is being cruel—rather than violent.

George Eliot stated that "cruelty, like every other vice, requires no motive outside itself; it only requires opportunity."[1] Bertrand Russell stated that "the infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists. That is why they invented Hell."[1] Gilbert K. Chesterton stated that "cruelty is, perhaps, the worst kind of sin. Intellectual cruelty is certainly the worst kind of cruelty."[1]

The word has metaphorical uses, for example "The cliffs remained cruel." (i.e. unclimbable when they desperately needed to be climbed) in The Lord of the Rings.


Usage in lawEdit

The term cruelty is often used in law and criminology with regard to the treatment of animals, children, spouses, and prisoners.[2] When cruelty to animals is discussed, it often refers to unnecessary suffering. In criminal law, it refers to punishment, torture, victimization, draconian measures, and cruel and unusual punishment.[3][4] In divorce cases, many jurisdictions permit a cause of action for cruel and inhumane treatment.[5]

In law, cruelty is "the infliction of physical or mental distress, especially when considered a determinant in granting a divorce."[6]

In sexualityEdit

In a sexual context, sadomasochism is the giving and/or receiving of pleasure—often sexual—from acts involving the infliction or reception of pain or humiliation. A subset of BDSM, practitioners of sadomasochism usually seek out sexual gratification from these acts, but often seek out other forms of pleasure as well. While the terms sadist and masochist specifically refer to one who either enjoys giving pain (sadist), or one who enjoys receiving pain (masochist), many practitioners of sadomasochism describe themselves as at least somewhat of a switch, or someone who can receive pleasure from either inflicting or receiving pain.


The term comes from Middle English, via the Old French term "crualte", which is based on Latin "crudelitas", from "crudelis".[7]

Slang usesEdit

In Britain, "the Cruelty" is sometimes said as a slang short form for the name of "the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children" (NSPCC) or "the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals" (RSPCA).[citation needed]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ a b c "Cruelty Quotes". BrainyQuote. Retrieved 2013-08-18. 
  2. ^ "Cruelty". Retrieved July 12, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Cruelty to animals". Retrieved July 12, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Animal Cruelty Law & Legal Definition". Retrieved July 12, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Cruel and Inhuman Treatment Law & Legal Definition". Retrieved July 12, 2012. 
  6. ^ The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
  7. ^ "cruelty: definition of cruelty in Oxford dictionary (British & World English)". 2013-08-13. Retrieved 2013-08-18. 

External linksEdit