Jennifer Case
Jennifer Case, NIU

Jennifer Case graduated from Batavia High School and was involved in Future Educators Association, Art Club, Key Club, National Honors Society, Math Club, and Honors Student Association. Jennifer’s interests include working with oil pastels, reading, and sketching. Jennifer is majoring in mechanical engineering and hopes to work with animatronics after earning her Master’s degree. “What Are Animals?” is important to Jennifer because she feels it was her hardest assignment of the class, but it turned out the best.

In March 2004, Robert Stevens was indicted under 18 USC § 48 for selling videos of animal cruelty, specifically pit bull fighting; however, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared that 18 USC § 48 was unconstitutional in July 2008 (Schulman). The law states, “Whoever knowingly creates, sells, or possesses a depiction of animal cruelty with the intention of placing that depiction in interstate or foreign commerce for commercial gain, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both” (“18 U.S.C.”). According to this law, “Depiction of animal cruelty” is “any visual or auditory depiction … in which a living 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 [where the incident took place]” (“18 U.S.C.”). Stevens’s videos clearly fall under this law, so why was the conviction declared unconstitutional? According to The New York Times reporter Adam Liptak, “The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit … reversed Mr. Stevens’s conviction and struck down the law, saying it violated the constitutional right to free speech.” The case is currently under review by the Supreme Court to decide whether or not the law is unconstitutional.

Although the Supreme Court has not yet released its answer, many other people have already decided their views on the law. Because this law has to do with banning photography, the fact that child pornography is the only other banned form of photography comes to mind when some are judging the law. The lower federal appeals court feels that “preventing cruelty to animals … simply does not implicate interests of the same magnitude as protecting children from physical and psychological harm” (Biskupic). On the other hand, Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of The Humane Society states, “We wouldn’t allow the sale of videos of actual child abuse or murder staged for the express purpose of selling videos of such criminal acts, and the same legal principles apply to despicable acts of animal cruelty” (“Resurgence”). Washington and Lee University Law Dean Rodney Smolla argue, “Our culture is filled with images of repulsive activities and expressions of repulsive ideas, and our free speech tradition stands against … sending people to jail for it” (Biskupic). Despite all the opinions going around, what really matters is the Supreme Court’s decision.

In the past, the Supreme Court has gone against animal cruelty, such as dog fighting. When the congress looked back at the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act of 2007, they expanded the law to include bird fighting as well. Not everyone on the congress agreed with the addition, or even with the law itself. Steve King disagreed with the law saying:

H.R. 137 is being driven by animal rights activists. … In reality, these laws seek to over regulate animal agriculture in the United States bit by bit. This will ultimately hurt animal agriculture in the United States and put family farms out of business.… I believe that we should not value animal life over human life. It makes no sense that killing a person is a misdemeanor if transporting animals to a fight is a felony. (Conyers)

What Steve King’s argument for this law and the arguments for the Depiction of Animal Cruelty Law basically boil down to is human rights versus animal rights and whether or not animals deserve protection under laws.

Do animals deserve rights? In my opinion, yes. Do animals deserve to have the same rights as humans? No. Animals are not humans; they cannot be compared to humans, but that does not mean they do not deserve attention. King seems to think that giving animals rights will eventually lead to the decline of farming. Personally, I don’t see it. People eat meat and will continue to eat meat despite what animal rights extremists may say. I like my hamburger; I may not like the way cows are slaughtered, but does that mean I am going to stop eating hamburgers? No. Is it wrong that I want to eat hamburgers? No. Animals deserve some rights, but they do not deserve to be treated as equals.

I agree with some of what King said, but other parts of his arguments are missing pieces. Why is killing a person a misdemeanor if simply transporting an animal to a fight is a felony? The first response would be to say that this is not right, but under what conditions is killing a person a misdemeanor? Homicide? Definitely not. What about in the case of vehicular manslaughter when a person runs in front of a car and the inevitable occurs? The difference between this case and the case of knowingly transporting an animal to a fight is in the intention of the perpetrator. The person driving the car has no intention of killing, whereas the person driving the animal to a fight has every intention of taking the animal to the fight.

If animal rights and human rights are looked at side by side in these cases, the results will be different, showing that human rights are above animal rights. For example, if a car unintentionally hits and kills another person, it would be considered a misdemeanor; however, if a car unintentionally hits and kills an animal, it would be a tragedy and end at that. Another example is if a human is intentionally taken to a fight in which he might die, the driver could be charged for assisting in homicide or attempted homicide; the charge for that is probably higher than it is for transporting an animal to a fight. As it stands, humans are above animals when it comes to rights, which is as it should be, but that does not mean that animals do not deserve any rights.

The Supreme Court has been in favor of animal rights in the past through laws such as the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act of 2007. As to whether or not that favor extends as far as the Depiction of Animal Cruelty Law has yet to be disclosed; however, this law was made not only for the animals, but for people as well. The law was initially intended for videos called “crush videos,” in which women with bare feet or high heels would slowly crush to death animals such as rats, mice, kittens, and puppies. These videos were meant “to gratify sexual fetishes” (Biskupic). What kind of person would get off on a small puppy crying out in pain as a foot slowly forces the air from the puppy’s lungs, cracking the puppy’s ribs one by one? But clearly this does not deserve our attention. After all, people hurting animals, or enjoying watching animals get hurt, cannot possibly consider hurting another person, right? Wrong.

This is not about people who get gratification from animals dying; this is about people who get gratification from death. According to a study done by the Humane Society, 70% of 332 people arrested for animal cruelty have been arrested on felony charges, including two homicides; 86% of that 332 people have had multiple arrests (“Animal”). Some of the worst criminals have admitted to animal abuse, and people are taking notice of it. According to Diana Meyer, a reporter for Herizons:

A history of cruelty to animals is not uncommon among serial killers and many less publicized criminals. In fact, animal abuse is so common among this type of criminal that in the US, the FBI’s profile of serial killers includes histories of animal abuse.

People who hurt animals may start hurting humans. People who watch these crush videos may eventually want to try putting their own foot over a furry, breathing animal since they get so much pleasure from the videos, and then where could that lead? The intention for this law may have been partially directed for animals, but the law was also meant to prevent some human casualties that could result from the videos. When the law was first implemented, businesses selling the crush videos stopped and the market disappeared (Biskupic).

Even though the law helped decrease the market for crush videos, the law was too broad to be feasible. The law mentions any video where an animal is intentionally killed; this extends to much more than just crush videos. One example is a movie made in the 1930s called Covered Wagon. Melanie Stubblefield explains, “The herd ran about twenty-five horses over a cliff into a stream trying to perfect the scene, and in doing so killed several horses.” This movie, like crush videos, falls under the law. It is a movie in which horses were intentionally killed, and the movie was sold for commercial gain; however, videos such as this should be exempted. Other videos such as bull fighting in Spain fall into this category as well. There are exemptions for depictions of “religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value” (“18 U.S.C.”), but many videos still fall within the scope of the law.

The crush videos are a serious problem, which the law was intended to address. Since the law was declared unconstitutional, crush videos have begun to pop up again. According to the Humane Society, “The crushing videos were easily available for purchase … the password-protected part of one Web site had 118 videos for sale … another crush Web site … offered for sale 12 crush videos featuring rabbits” (“Resurgence”). Crush videos have once again become available showing videos of “small animals, including rabbits, hamsters, mice, tortoises, quail, chicken, frogs, snakes, and even cats, being tortured and crushed. The animals were burned, drowned and had nails hammered into them” (“Resurgence”). Something is wrong with people who make or buy videos like these. The law needs to be reinstituted, so that videos like these disappear. If they changed the definition of “depiction of animal cruelty” to “any visual or auditory depiction, including photograph, motion-picture film, video recording, electronic image, or sound recording of conduct in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed solely for the purpose of entertainment from the maiming, mutilating, torturing, wounding, or killing,” then the law would more directly target crush videos. Granted, Congress would need to tailor the law to target the crush videos, but crush videos are unacceptable, and a law is unfortunately required to keep them in check. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will decide to reinstate 18 USC § 48, changing the law to target crush videos. Although there were good intentions behind the original law, these intentions did not shine through. Animal cruelty is a serious problem in any form, and we cannot afford to ignore the problem for our own sake.

 

Works Cited

“18 U.S.C. § 48: US Code – Section 48: Depiction of Animal Cruelty.” Find Law 9 December 1999. 15 October 2009. <http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/uscode/18/I/3/48>.

“Animal Cruelty, Serial Killers and Violence.” Humanesociety.org. 29 October 2009. <http://www.hsus.org/acf/cruelty/publiced/cruelty_serial_killers.html?log-event=sp2f-view-item&nid=51008483>.

Biskupic, Joan. “Animal-abuse Videos are Test of Free Speech.” USA Today 5 October 2009. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 20 October 2009. <http://www.ulib.niu.edu>.

Conyers. Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act of 2007. Committee on the Judiciary: Washington: House of Representatives, 2007.

Liptak, Adam. “Animal Cruelty Law Tests Free Speech.” The New York Times 6 January 2009. Blackboard. English 105, NIU. 10 October 2009. <https://webcourses.niu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp>.

Meyer, Diana Lambdin. “Animal Abusers More Likely to Abuse People.” Herizons 10.4 (1996): 3-4. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 22 October 2009. <http://www.ulib.niu.edu>.

“Resurgence of Animal ‘Crush’ Videos Reinforces Need for Federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Law.” Humanesociety.org 15 September 2009. 29 October 2009. <http://www.hsus.org/press_and_publications/press_releases>.

Schulman, Adam Ezra. “History of Animal-cruelty Law at Issue in Stevens Poses Incongruity.” FirstAmendmentCenter.org 4 August 2009. 15 October 2009. <http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/analysis.aspx?id=21912&printer-friendly=y>.

Stubblefield, Melanie, ed. “They Don’t Make Movies Like They Used To: A Visit with Russell O’Dell.” Bittersweet Vol. 9 (1982). 21 October 2009. <http://thelibrary.springfield.missouri.org/lochist/periodicals/bittersweet/su82b.htm>.

Published by Aaron Geiger

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