January 15, 2000

 

 New law criminalizes video depictions of animal cruelty

Posted Jan. 1, 2000


After sailing through Congress, a bill making it a federal offense to create, sell, or possess with the intention of selling videos depicting animal cruelty was signed recently into law by President Clinton.

The legislation effectively bans the interstate and foreign commerce of "crush videos," a kind of pornography featuring women torturing and killing small animals such as rodents, dogs, and monkeys by stepping on them.

Representative Elton Gallegly (R-CA) introduced the bill (HR 1887) in May 1999, and it was approved in the House by a 372-42 vote in October. The Senate unanimously passed the bill without amendment in November, sending the bill to the White House, where it became law Dec 9.

Under the new law, violators are subject to fines and up to five years in prison.

Animal-interest groups and state law enforcement officials endorsed the legislation. As reported earlier in the JAVMA (Oct 15, 1999, page 1084), prosecuting these animal cruelty cases is difficult because the videos tend to show only the women's feet, hiding their identities. The time when the videos were produced is also hard to determine, raising statute of limitations issues.

Gallegly has stated that more than 2,000 "crush video" titles are available nationwide and on the Internet at prices of up to $100.

By criminalizing the commercial aspect of the videos, the law is intended to halt their production.

Depiction of animal cruelty is defined as "any visual or auditory depiction, including any photograph, motion picture film, video recording, electronic image, or sound recording of conduct in which a live 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," regardless of whether the incident occurred in the state.

Yet the legislation is not without controversy. Critics say it will infringe on freedom of speech rights. When the bill was introduced in May, there were fears that the bill's language could be interpreted so broadly as to outlaw animal documentaries and other legitimate productions.

A clause was later added by the House exempting "any depiction that has serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historic, or artistic value."