While Rome Burns .... Congressional Posturing, and Tilting at Windmills
by Judy FranklinOn Wings November 1999
Last year, Ventura County, California attempted to prosecute an animal cruelty crime. The case was dismissed when it was shown that the event occurred in 1992, outside the statute of limitations. This particular crime involved the 'crushing' to death of a number of small animals, in this case mice and rats. Now, following a year-long Internet sting carried out by an undercover Ventura county Investigator, a similar case will go to trial in Los Angeles County.
The defendants, Diane Chaffin, of La Puente and Gary Thomason of Anaheim, California, were accused of staging and selling what have come to be known as 'crush videos,' where small animals are immobilized and then slowly killed by being crushed by women with bare feet. or by women in stiletto heels or other types of erotic footwear. They have both pleaded 'not guilty" to three counts each of felony animal cruelty.
The people to whom these videos appeal are apparently victims of a particular kind of. sexual fetish; they achieve gratification through watching living thing being tortured and crushed to death by women's feet. The acts of cruelty to animals are in and of themselves illegal in each and every state of the Union. But now comes Congress to make the selling of the videos of these acts for profit in interstate commerce a federal crime.
H.R. 1887 is a bill to punish the depiction of animal cruelty, purportedly made necessary by the difficulty in identifying the alleged perpetrator of said offenses, the difficulty in pinpointing the location in which the crime was committed and in confirming the date of said offenses.
As usual the rationale included dire warnings of a burgeoning international trade in such videos: "H.R. 1887 will stop the interstate sale of these videos, and perhaps stop some of the international sales of these videos. Because we have learned that in hearing is that, unfortunately, entire industries have sprung up appealing to these unusual sexual fetishes throughout the world, and the Internet is the way and the means through which these are procured. Of course, most of them are originating in the United States." (Bill McCollum R-FL)
H.R. 1887 was introduced b Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA). The aim of the bill was to stop the interstate sale of these so-called 'crush' videos. It would prohibit the "creation, sale of possession of the depiction of animals cruelty with the intention of placing that depiction in interstate or foreign commerce. Depiction of animal cruelty in the bill means any visual or auditory depiction including any photograph, motion picture film, video recording, electronic image or sound record in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded or killed."
The bill does not criminalize the mere possession of such a depiction - only the possession with intent to transfer in interstate or foreign commerce. The Bill was heard in the Subcommittee on Crime of the Committee on the Judiciary, during which time a clip from an actual 'crush video' was shown. The Bill was favorably reported out of Subcommittee by a vote of 8 to 2, and at the full Committee by a vote of 22 to 4. The Bill passed the House on a roll call vote on 19 October 1999. The vote was 372 yeas; 4 nays; and 19 not voting. The passage was remarkably non-partisan. with those on both sides of the aisle lining up in support of dumb animals everywhere.
The background, and the problem defined ...
As in so many other issues, Congress can sometimes overestimate the magnitude of a perceived problem. The bird-smuggling issue was one that was greatly overblown by those opposed to the trade in birds in order to encourage the -restrictive legislation we have today. Likewise, there has been no real evidence that the illegal trade in wildlife is in any related to, or in any way comparable financially to, the illegal drug trade, but wildly exaggerated and alarming 'news releases' on the subject are common.
No matter how many times such claims are repeated, they are still not true.
The extent of the market for 'crush' videos is impossible to ascertain. But reading the testimony of the 'undercover agent' makes one wonder to what extent the problem was created or at least exacerbated by law enforcement behavior. The following testimony was given on September 30, 1999:
"My name is Susan Creede. I am an investigator with the Ventura County District Attorney's Office. I have been a police officer for nearly twenty years, but I only became familiar with animal crush videos in September 1998, when this case was first assigned to me. The investigation began after we received a video from the United States Humane Society of Washington. DC. They purchased the video on the internet...
During my investigation, I ran searches for animal crushing on the Internet. I found different websites and chat rooms announcing crushing activities. I also located bulletin boards involving animal crushing activities. While in the different rooms involving foot fetishes, I communicated on line with people and told them that I was interested in animal crushing. I was eventually directed to a chat room called "Crushcentral" where people with foot fetishes and different sexual deviances meet to talk with people of similar interests. I spent the majority of my time in "Crushcentral" but I was able to locate two other chatrooms that were similar in nature, "Crush 101" and -"Feet."••
People from all over the world meet in these chatrooms. They use stage names such as "Under her Feet", "Squished," etc. I met these people on a daily basis, using the name Minnie, I talked to and 'made friends with' people from the Netherlands. the United Kingdom, Italy. Mexico. and the United States. Each day I chatted with these individuals during the day and evening, depending on where in the world they lived. We shared crush experiences as well as every-day life experiences. The fact that people do not use their real names makes investigating these crimes difficult. One never knows who they are actually corresponding, which makes it very difficult to prove who is actually producing the videos.
Through my conversations, I learned that the common denominator was the 'foot fetish.' They spoke about their fetishes and how they developed. For many of them the fetish developed as a result of something they saw at a very early age, and it usually occurred before the age of five. Most of these men saw a woman step on something. She was usually someone who was significant in their lives. They were excited by the experience and somehow attached their sexuality to it. As these men grew older, the woman's foot became a part of their sexuality. The power and dominance of the woman using her foot was significant to them. They began to fantasize about the thought of being the subject under the woman's foot. They fantasized about the power of the woman and how she would be able to crush the life out of them if she chose to do so. Many of these men love to be trampled by women. Some like to be trampled by a woman wearing shoes or high heels. Others like to be trampled by women who are barefoot. They prefer to be hurt and the more indifferent the woman is to their pain, the more exciting it is for them.
I have learned that the extreme fantasy for these men is to be trampled or crushed to death under the foot of a powerful woman. Because they would only be able to experience this one time, these men have found a way to transfer their fantasy and excitement. They have learned that if they watch a woman crush an animal or live creature to his death, they can fantasize that they are that animal experiencing death at the foot of this woman.
Many videos are produced wherein defenseless animals are tortured and crushed to death for the sole purpose of sexually exciting men, The animals are tortured in a slow, cruel and deliberate way. The women torturing the animals talk to them as if they are human. The women play the part of the dominatrix.
These videos are usually sold for fifty to two hundred dollars apiece. Special orders are made at the request of the buyer. He merely emails his request in detail to the producer. Their fantasy is they acted out by the actress while being filmed by the producer.
During my chats I have learned that many of these videos are being produced in the United States. Several of the producers live in California. However, I have learned that there are producers living in Texas and Ohio as well. The animals being crushed include, but are not limited to, mice, pinkies (baby mice), guinea pigs, rats. squirrels, rabbits, birds, chickens. cats, dogs and monkeys. I have personally been asked to make a video of a dog being crushed. I was also approached on the internet by an individual that asked how big an animal I was willing to crush. I was once instructed on how to torture a dog on video, step by step. I was told to purchase a dog at a place that would not check on the animal at a later date. I was told to make the video immediately after purchasing the animal to avoid the risk of becoming attached. I was told to make the crushing incident last ninety minutes before the animal actually died.
In May 1999, I was contacted through the internet by *********, known to the crush community as "Getsmart." ******** sent me a clip of a mouse and rat crush video he filmed with 'Diane." ******** told me he would much rather produce a video with me, and he asked me to consider making a video with him. I agreed and we made arrangements to meet at this apartment on June 19, 1999.
With the assistance of Long Beach Police and Investigators from the Ventura County District Attorney's office, I went undercover with a second police officer from Long Beach. After we arrived at "'*******'s residence, he went to the local pet store and purchased five large rats. ******* arranged for a second cameraman to video-tape the crushing event from a different angle. After ******** taped one of the rats to a table and both camera men had the cameras running and ready to film, the arrests were made. At that point the Long Beach Police Department took over the investigation. Mr. ****** awaits trial on Felony animal cruelty charges.'
Were the Congressmen Paying Attention????
Reading the testimony of this 'expert,' at least, one must wonder at the extent of her participation, and how close her behavior came to actually instigating certain of the incidents of cruelty suggested here. But one thing was clear: the buyers of such films did not themselves participate in the acts of cruelty, but rather were stimulated by the thought of such acts being perpetrated on them. That is not the way the good lawmakers saw it, however.
As Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) put it, "(s)ome of society's most brutal killers first began their violent ways by killing and maiming small animals. By putting an end to these disgusting and cruel videos, we could discourage the behavior of these individuals before it escalates to more serious crimes directed not towards animals but towards people."
What a problem these Congressmen have uncovered; how did they do so? Chairman Bill McCollum tells us: "I must confess, that until Rep. Gallegly brought this issue to my attention, I had never even heard of these types of videos. But. this problem should not be underestimated. Last Sunday night, the ABC television program "The Practice" - the winner of this year's Emmy Award for best television drama - featured a character with the fetish to which these videos appeal. Characters in the show made mention of the underground industry that sells depictions of this torture and killing."
And now, the animal rights industry's answer to the Alar scare comes to us in the person of Loretta Swit - she is the 'authority' the Humane Society of the United States, American Humane Association, Actors and Others for Animals, the Society for Protective Animal Legislation, and the Doris Day Animal League sent to Washington to educate our esteemed Congress people on the issue of animal crushing films. The erudite Ms. Swit, or 'Hot Lips' to fans of the now-defunct, but oft rerun show, *"MASH", was succinct in her testimony: *[Note the bizarre "humor" used in choosing their spokesperson!]
"If we as a nation are serious about diminishing violence in our communities and in our films, on our televisions, on the Internet and other creative media, we must recognize that violence, no matter who the victim. When violence, in any form, is not addressed and rectified, we send a message that it is acceptable. It is not. The violence depicted in 'crush' videos is against the law and we should ensure that it is prosecutable. We cannot afford to give violence a 'stamp of approval' by remaining silent. If we do, where will it lead?"
Ms. Swit, of course, was not troubled by the violence in the series that made her famous, one that clearly and graphically depicted the violence of war. One that clearly and graphically depicted the maiming and killing of human beings by other human beings, in the context of comedy.
Those Congressmen who spoke in favor of passage of the bill each proffered many of the same arguments in support of the bill. Many studies, they argue. find that people who commit crimes against animals go on to commit similar crimes against human beings. They also assert, without apparent reference authority or attribution, that there currently exist some two thousand (or three thousand, per Tom Lantos) 'crush' tapes, which sell for from fifty to three hundred dollars apiece.
Excellent dissenting arguments on the bill were presented on a bipartisan basis, however. Particularly cogent among them was that of Rep. Bobby Scott (D- VA). He argued on the basis of First Amendment issues: "Proponents of the bill argue that prohibiting dissemination of 'crush videos' will have the effect of deterring the actual act of crushing animals," he said. "However, films of animals being crushed are communications about the acts depicted, not the doing of the acts. Shooting, possessing or selling such films are distinct from the act of crushing an animal. These are activities similar to 'cops on the beat shows' using closed-circuit films of actual robberies or other crimes in order to compete for ratings and the advertising revenues these ratings bring in. Communication through film speech is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution . . . Here, while Government can and does protect animals from acts of cruelty, to make possession of films of such acts illegal would infringe upon the free speech rights of those possessing the films."
Scott also addressed the issue of animal torturers and their subsequent behaviors against humans: "(T)he suggestion is that serial killers actually torture animals themselves. The testimony at the hearing on this issue revealed that in animal crush videos, the person seeking satisfaction is the person watching the act or video, not the one crushing the animal. And there is no indication that the person actually torturing the animal did so for any motive other than getting paid. Therefore, the serial killer analogy does not appear to be an apt one for these videos and is too tenuous a connection to meet the 'strict scrutiny' test necessary to restrict a fundamental human right."
Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), similarly took issue with the necessity for the legislation. "While such acts are abhorrent," he says, "making this a priority for Federal law enforcement is not the correct way to address it. All states already have enacted laws addressing pornography, as well as animal protection laws that would apply to these 'crush videos.' I believe we should leave this issue to the states. If the citizens of a State want to change its animal cruelty laws to strengthen or broaden them to cover the activities addressed by this proposed legislation, then it should be left up to that State to enact such laws Although H.R. 1887 seeks to solve a societal problem, I do not believe this is an area that needs additional Federal legislation."
Marshall Sanford (R-SC), also speaking in opposition to the Act, had some questions as to the ultimate ramifications of passage of this sort of legislation: "Mr. Speaker," he said, "I do not know if this would mean somehow that the Kentucky Derby would become a Federal crime as the jockey whips the horse; I do not know if one of the biggest times in the low country of South Carolina would now suddenly become a Federal crime as one literally throws live crabs in to hot boiling water to steam crabs. However, what I do know is that the Federal Government cannot keep up with what is already on its plate, and the Justice Department is already very busy trying to prosecute what is before it. The idea of adding another Federal crime to again, as the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Paul) has suggested earlier, - this is something that I am not hearing from my constituents back home and it does not make sense to me."
Texas' Ron Paul did indeed sum it up well. "If ever there were a bill unnecessary, this is one. It is an example of us here in Congress looking for dragons to slay. This is absolutely unnecessary. There is not real purpose in passing this legislation. As has been said, all fifty States have laws against violence and cruelty to animals. That should be adequate. But the way this bill is written really opens up a Pandora's box. It is a can of worms. Take for instance, it says, 'whosoever knowingly possess a depiction of animal cruelty with the intention of placing that depiction in interstate commerce.' That, you can get five years for. How do you prove intention? This is purely subjective. This is not narrowly written; this is very broadly written. This is a First Amendment concern to many, but it is also unnecessary.
Those legislators that agreed that amending Title 18, United States Code, to punish the depiction of animal cruelty, was unwise, and hence voted against the measure include Abercrombie-D, Barr-R, Bateman-R, Burr-R, Burton-R, Cannon-R, Chenoweth-R, Clayton-D, Coburn-R, Collins-R, Cooksey-R, DeGette-D, Doolittle-R, Dreier-R, Graham-R, Hill-R, Hoekstra-R, Hostettler-R, Hunter-R, (Sam) Johnson-R, Kingston-R, Linder-R, Manzullo-R, Meek-D, Norwood-R, Nussle-R, Paul-R, Ryun-R, Sanford-R, Schaffer-R, Scott-D, Sessions-R, Shadegg-R, Sununu-R, Tauzin-R, Taylor-R, Thornberry-R, Tiart-R, Waters-D, Watt-D, Watts-R and Wicker-R.
There will never be, in this or any country, a day no rats will die. We can hope, however, that there will someday come a time when Congress can exercise a little common sense when addressing emotional issues concerning animals. Chief Judge Rehnquist, along with Ed Meese, has stated recently that there is just no need for more Federal laws. We do not need more Federal laws. We cannot even enforce the ones that we have."
"Crush videos" are no doubt disgusting, but in the grand scheme of things, are of little consequence. In making a 'federal case' out of a problem that may not even exist at any discernable level, Congress cheapens the greater cause of the real animal welfare issues of the day. Congressmen have too many important things to do to waste their time 'crying wolf'. There are enough real issues for them to deal with."