Disgusting and Illegal

Posted by Matthew Liebman, ALDF Staff Attorney on August 6, 2010

Earlier this week the New York Times published an editorial called "Disgusting but Not Illegal," which defends animal crush videos as free speech.  

Not only does the Times’ editorial ignore the reality of these videos, but it also misreads the text of the new bill to ban their sale and distribution.

The Times is right to point out that the obscenity exception to the First Amendment applies only to prurient or sexual materials. But animal crush videos do appeal to the prurient interest in sex: the sadistic desire to observe animals being tortured and the masochistic desire to fantasize oneself as an animal being crushed by a dominatrix.

In theory, one could have a non-sexual crush video (e.g., one without the sado-masochistic overtones). But the way the new bill defines crush video requires obscenity: “[T]he term ‘animal crush video’ means any obscene photograph, motion-picture film, video recording, or electronic image that depicts actual conduct in which one or more living animals is intentionally crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, or impaled . . . .”

The only videos whose sale and distribution are criminalized by the new bill are those that are obscene, and therefore already unprotected by the First Amendment.

6 thoughts on “Disgusting and Illegal

  1. I think crush videos are unquestionably horrible, but I’m uncomfortable with appealing to the mainstream aversion to BDSM in order to get them banned on charges of obscenity. The aspect of animal crush videos that we should find abhorrent is the needless cruelty to animals, not the fact that the videos appeal to masochists and submissives. Statements like this might provide more legal support for getting the videos banned, but it’s yet another step backward for kinky folks who are tired of seeing their sexuality maligned–not to mention sex workers who are fighting those same obscenity laws you’re invoking here.

  2. Stefanie says:

    I can’t even begin to express my disgust in this situation. First of all, i’m not only concerned about making these video’s and images illegal, I’m also concerned with the fact that i have not seen much done about finding the people responsible for taking the images, and putting them anywhere the general public can see. I am heart broken just knowing that things like this even happen to sweet innocent animals. Finally, I am filled with anger and rage that our government is allowing this to go on, not caring about the fact that ppl who do things like that to animals have real psychological problems and some end up to be killers. Must I use Jeffery Dahmer as an example ppl? Recording or photographing the act just makes it that more violent, perverse, and WRONG!

  3. Matthew says:

    Hi subversivesub,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. The last thing I meant to do was malign BDSM. I’m sorry that I was less than clear on this: my point is not that crush videos are obscene because they’re sadomasochistic, but that they’re *sexual* because they’re sadomasochistic. Under the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Miller v. California, a work can be obscene only if it “appeals to the prurient interest in sex.” In other words, things that are just patently offensive are not obscene, but things that are both patently offensive and sexual can be obscene. Crush videos are patently offensive on their own, regardless of sadomasochistic content. But to get the other piece of the puzzle, the sexual component, one can look to the BDSM side of crush videos. So kinkiness by itself is not obscene, it’s sexual. Kinkiness plus crushed animals is obscene. Again, I apologize for not being clearer on that, and thank you for calling me out on it.

  4. Ramonita, Puerto Rico, USA says:

    I read about these videos a few days. I never imagined in my lifetime that these horrifying acts could actually be executed and videotaped. I hate to use the word people but the person that carries out such a morbid act cannot be human. This is not only disgusting, but I must add is one of the most degrading and perverted Act imaginable. To think the government is letting these criminal minds get away with this is also disgusting. Ramonita

  5. Nick J says:

    So the law had chosen to interprate its wording in such a way this will continue? What do people not understand about humans? if serial killers can get sexual pleasure from sexual mutilation how cant killers get pleasure from killing defeseless animals how is that free speech for gods sake!! how can you ever call yourself a christian country and allow this sick and barbaric act to happen! humans have so many damn rights we are destroying the life on this planet with them! for god sake save life that has no voice! why do we need free speech about how killing animals in this fashion is right and justifiable. it is dam well not!!! Come USA lawmakers..god damn you for making this ok to do. I for one as a Brit am ashamed at the USA for this.

  6. Bill says:

    Matthew, dropping a load on someone’s chest is offensive to some, but it is also sexual for the people who participate. Does that mean that type of footage, which people watch by choice, should be considered obscene and banned? I think not. Obscenity should be protected by the First Amendment. We all have the right to look away. The people attacking crush videos are focusing on the wrong path to having them stopped. More should be done to prevent the violence against the animals rather than prevent the filming of such acts. Your intentions are good, but you are greatly missing the mark. I’d even argue that allowing it to be filmed is a good thing. Thousands of people can either watch the video of the one kitten getting stomped, or they can go out and each kill a kitten of their own since they have no other way of witnessing it for their own sexual pleasure. Which would you prefer? The fact that it is sexual is irrelevant. That you and many others are offended is irrelevant, no matter how much you want to whine about it. What matters is finding the people responsible, and having video circulating makes that much easier.

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