September 15, 2009
Resurgence of Animal 'Crush' Videos Reinforces Need for Federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Law
With the U.S. Supreme Court set to consider the constitutionality of a federal anti-animal cruelty law on Oct. 6, The Humane Society of the United States revealed the results of a new investigation showing a recent resurgence in the same horrific animal "crush" videos that sparked the law's passage a decade ago, now once again widely available on the Internet as enforcement efforts have been hindered.
The enactment of the Federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Law in 1999 halted the proliferation of animal crushing operations, and has also been used to crack down on commercial dogfighting operations, in which the animals often fight to the death for the amusement of viewers. The HSUS' most recent investigation shows that since the law was struck down by an appellate court last July, crush videos have re-proliferated on the Internet in response to the court's ruling.
"The federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Law is the only tool available to crack down on this horrific form of extreme animal cruelty," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. "We wouldn't allow the sale of videos of actual child abuse or murder staged for the express purpose of selling videos of such criminal acts, and the same legal principles apply to despicable acts of animal cruelty."
"More than 10 years ago law enforcement in my district alerted me to the problem of thousands of 'crush videos' on the Internet. To combat these perverse videos that show horrific acts of animal cruelty, I introduced the Depictions of Animal Cruelty Act and it was enacted into law in 1999 with strong bipartisan support," said Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif. "HSUS' investigation revealing the widespread proliferation of crush videos since the law's legal challenge makes the need for the this sensible but strong federal animal protection law perfectly clear."
The videos and photographs show women, often in high-heeled shoes, impaling and crushing to death puppies, kittens and other small animals, catering to those with a fetish for this aberrant behavior.
The HSUS recently conducted extensive Internet research and undercover email communication to ascertain the availability of small animal crush videos for sale on the Internet. The crushing videos were easily available for purchase and horrifying in the cruelty inflicted on the victims. The password-protected part of one Web site had 118 videos for sale. The videos were of small animals, including rabbits, hamsters, mice, tortoises, quail, chicken, ducks, frogs, snakes and even cats, being tortured and crushed. The animals were burned, drowned and had nails hammered into them.
Videos ranged in price from $20 to $100. Each of the videos for sale contained footage of multiple animals, translating into hundreds of small animals being tortured and crushed to death for the profit-making of this one Web site alone.
Undercover investigators also established contact with another crush Web site and were offered for sale 12 crush videos featuring rabbits. Another Web site contacted offered for sale 17 newborn mouse crush videos.
"We wouldn't allow people to sell videos of people actually abusing children and raping women, and for good reason. It's vital to protect the community from the violence that flows from those who perpetrate such inexcusable crimes," said Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va. "The same legal principles apply to the malicious acts of cruelty revealed by The HSUS' recent crush video investigation. We do not tolerate illegal animal abuse, and we should not tolerate those who profit from it."
The Depiction of Animal Cruelty Law
- Congress passed the federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Law (Section 48) in 1999 with overwhelming bipartisan support.
- The law criminalizes the interstate sale of depictions, such as video, in which "a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed, if such conduct is illegal under Federal law or the law of the State in which the creation, sale, or possession takes place."
- The law targets the commercial production and distribution of depictions of animal cruelty to remove the profit incentive for producing such depictions and to deter the underlying acts.
- The law contains a broad exemption for depictions with any "religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value," and the statute therefore does not impact art, journalism, or educational materials, among others, related to animal cruelty.
- In addition, under the plain terms of the statute, no depiction is prohibited unless the underlying cruelty is (a) unlawful in its own right and (b) being sold for profit.
- Depictions with serious social value, such as media coverage of animal cruelty, are exempt. Hunting videos and other depictions of legal animal activities are also exempt.
Timeline of United States v. Stevens
- January 2005: Robert Stevens was convicted in a jury trial of knowingly selling graphic depictions of animal cruelty with intent to place those depictions in interstate commerce for commercial gain. Stevens had been selling graphic videos depicting actual dog fights, which are illegal in all 50 states.
- May 2005: Stevens appealed his conviction to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned the conviction and found that the Depiction of Animal Cruelty Law was facially unconstitutional because it violated First Amendment free speech guarantees.
- December 2008: The U.S. Solicitor General filed a petition for certiorari requesting that the Supreme Court review and overturn the Third Circuit's decision. The HSUS filed an amicus brief in support of the Solicitor General's petition.
- April 2009: The Supreme Court agreed to review the Third Circuit's decision.
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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at humanesociety.org.