The internet can be a spooky place. On one hand it's a font of information and enlightenment, connecting us to people and places around the world. It brings us news in an instant, it gives us opportunities to learn and study, and it teaches us the value of information. But take a wrong turn and you'll see a darker side of humanity, a side in which viciousness and cruelty are rampant. One example of this sort of baseness, an example of which I was blissfully unaware until a Supreme Court decision brought it to the attention of mainstream media, is crush videos — disturbing images of animals being impaled, crushed, or smothered by women's feet, either bare or in high-heeled shoes.
In October of 2009, crush videos became front page news when a case, involving a Virginia man who had been convicted of selling videos that included scenes of dog fighting, was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The case was one of the first to test a 1999 federal law banning images that depict animal cruelty, however, the conviction was subsequently overturned by the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals after the defendant argued that the videos were for educational purposes.
In his ruling, the appellate judge considered whether images of animal cruelty are protected by free speech or whether the government is compelled to act against them as it has in other extreme cases, such as child pornography, where the existence of the images may be harmful. Ironically, in his decision, the judge found that images of animal cruelty warrant protection because, "While animals ... [are] worthy of human kindness and human care, one cannot seriously contend that the animals themselves suffer continuing harm by having their images out in the marketplace." No, I suppose that being crushed to death under a shoe for someone's sexual gratification is harm enough.
When the case reached the Supreme Court, the idea of free speech was again considered and the decision of the appellate court was upheld in an 8-1 decision with Justice Alito as the sole dissenter. The Court claimed that the law, as outlined by Congress, was too broad and potentially opened the door for an unintentional ban of educational videos depicting hunting or the slaughter of livestock.
To many, the decision was shocking. The idea that anyone has a constitutional right to slowly smash animals to death is absurd. Frankly, I cannot imagine — not even in the darkest, most remote corner of my mind — why anyone would ever want to see such a thing in the first place, and yet, in the days following the supreme court’s decision, Web traffic to such videos increased dramatically.
Now Congress is trying once again to stop these videos from being legally sold. In April 2010, H.R. 5092
was introduced which seeks to ban videos of animal cruelty and, this time around, the bill's language has been crafted to address the Supreme Court's concerns. It specifically prevents the interstate sale of images depicting animals being "intentionally crushed, burned, drowned or impaled," while leaving room for legitimate educational videos. So far 336 members of Congress have signed on as co-sponsors and the bill is currently in Committee.
Please help stop animal cruelty wherever it occurs. Avoid websites that show images of animal cruelty, support local animal welfare agencies such as The Humane Society
, report animal abuse to authorities when you see it, and please contact your elected officials to let them know that H.R. 5092 is important to you.