Today, The HSUS released new information, in a telephone press conference with reporters, about gruesome animal crush videos that have made a comeback since the federal courts overturned the 1999 law Congress passed to ban their production and sale. In April, the U.S. Supreme Court declared this federal anti-cruelty law invalid and unconstitutional, creating an opening for peddlers of this smut to get back into this business.
Last week, at the urging of The HSUS and in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the House passed legislation by a vote of 416-3 to fill the gap in the law and to reinstate a narrowly tailored federal prohibition on this disgusting commerce. Today, U.S. Reps. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the co-authors of H.R. 5566, joined me in a call to urge the U.S. Senate to take up the House legislation and ban interstate and foreign commerce in these obscene animal “crush” videos before the 111th Congress concludes its work.
Today’s call was more than an exhortation, but also a cataloguing of this cruel trade. Following up on the leads provided by some of our sources, an HSUS researcher viewed 36 “preview clips” of crush videos, sent to prospective consumers to tease them into buying the full-length versions of the videos. These details are horrifying, and I feel badly about even writing them down. But I hope that knowledge of these abuses will compel good people to act. The videos depict the following:
- Three young girls crush a puppy to death with their bare feet. The audio includes cracking sounds as the puppy’s bones break. Three dead puppies can be seen lying on the floor nearby.
- A girl dressed in a leather mini-skirt and stiletto heels pokes the heel of her shoe through the eye of a small monkey.
- A girl wearing a flimsy negligee, stockings and stiletto heels crushes a rabbit, who screams as his hind legs are crushed.
- Two young girls in stilettos crush a medium-sized dog whose legs and mouth are tightly tied. One of the girls inserts the heel of her shoe into a dog’s eye socket.
- A girl skins a live dog with a knife, removing the animal’s ear and the skin and fur on the dog’s head.
Last September, we released a status report about the re-emergence of crush videos in the wake of a federal appellate court’s overturning of the 1999 federal law. Our investigators found that at that time crushing videos were easily available for purchase. The password protected part of one website had 118 videos for sale. Videos ranged in price from $20 to $100. Each of the videos for sale contained footage of multiple animals, translating into hundreds of animals being tortured and crushed to death for the profit-making of this one website alone.
In United States v. Stevens, the Supreme Court struck down the law Congress passed on narrow grounds, finding that the 1999 federal law was overbroad because it could be interpreted to apply to many unintended circumstances, including hunting videos. The Court did not say that depictions of extreme animal cruelty are protected by the First Amendment. Instead, the Court unanimously recognized the long history of animal cruelty laws dating back to the founding of our country, and carefully left open whether Congress could draft a narrower law that would only reach depictions of extreme and illegal cruelty. At oral argument, Justice Stephen Breyer stated that if Congress passed a statute aimed solely at “crush videos,” there would be “a very strong case” for upholding that law. Like our child pornography laws, our drug laws, and the basic obscenity doctrine, the Court has left an opening for the Congress to crack down on sale of such materials in the United States as a method of reducing demand, and hopefully reducing production.
H.R. 5566 narrowly limits its reach to obscene depictions in which an actual live animal is intentionally crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, or impaled in a manner that would violate a criminal prohibition on animal cruelty under federal law or the law of the state in which the depiction is created, sold, distributed, or offered for sale or distribution. We wouldn’t allow someone to murder someone or molest a child, and if they were not caught in the act, sell the video and profit from the underlying crime. The same principle is at work here, and the nearly unanimous House vote reveals that lawmakers understand what’s at stake.