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Hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee - Prohibiting Obscene Animal Crush Videos in the Wake of United States v. Stevens


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U.S. Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today chaired a hearing ("Prohibiting Obscene Animal Crush Videos in the Wake of United States v. Stevens") to examine the legal issues surrounding efforts to prohibit animal crush videos.

"Crush" videos are violent, obscene depictions of animal cruelty -- often involving young women torturing small animals to death. Such videos serve to fulfill the sexual fetish of a small, twisted segment of society. Kyl helped get enacted a 1999 law that banned depictions of animal cruelty aimed at crush videos. The Supreme Court overturned that law last year holding that it was unconstitutionally overbroad. However, the ruling explicitly reserved judgment on a statute narrowly tailored to crush videos. Senators Kyl, Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) have announced their intent to introduce a new bill soon that addresses the promulgation of crush videos, while respecting the Court's concern that such law not impede valid speech.

The hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, entitled "Prohibiting Obscene Animal Crush Videos in the Wake of United States v. Stevens," featured testimony from Nancy Perry, Vice President for Government Affairs at the Human Society of the United States, and from Dr. Kevin Volkan, Chair & Professor of the Psychology Program at California State University.

Senator Kyl's opening statement, as prepared, is below.

"Thank you for being here for this important hearing on "Prohibiting Obscene Animal Crush Videos in the Wake of United States v. Stevens.' "Animal crush videos depict some of the most extreme animal cruelty in existence. Typical animal crush videos feature women, often in high heels, crushing live helpless animals to death with their feet. The videos are usually filmed from an angle that conceals the perpetrator's identity. The videos are said to appeal to a sick subset of persons with a specific sexual fetish. Congress banned the creation or distribution of animal crush videos in 1999 with the enactment of 18 U.S.C. §48. In April of this year, however, the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Stevens, 130 S.Ct. 1577, struck down the 1999 act on First Amendment grounds, holding that the statute was unconstitutionally overbroad in that it applied to a substantial amount of protected speech. In other words, §48 was so broadly worded that its enforcement could reach many kinds of portrayals that did not even involve cruelty and might not even involve illegal activity, including hunting videos that are widely distributed and have some redeeming social value.

"The Stevens case did not involve crush videos and the Court specifically stated that it was not deciding whether a statute limited to crush videos or other depictions of extreme animal cruelty would be constitutional. Instead it left the door open for Congress to enact a narrowly tailored ban on animal crush videos that passes constitutional muster.

"In the wake of the Stevens case, crush videos are again being marketed and sold on the Internet, the primary mechanism for their distribution in interstate and foreign commerce. Despite the fact that every state and the District of Columbia have animal cruelty laws, the proliferation of animal crush videos is a problem that cannot be adequately addressed by them. A number of challenges to prosecution exist, including difficulties in determining when and where the crimes occurred and in identifying the perpetrator, since feet and the crushing of the animals are usually the only images on the video.

"Concerned about this recent proliferation and the inadequacy of state animal cruelty laws to address the problem, the House took a first crack at a new ban by passing the Prevention of Interstate Commerce in Animal Crush Videos Act of 2010 (H.R. 5566), sponsored by Representative Gallegly, a leader in fighting animal cruelty. I am working with him, my colleagues Senators Merkley and Burr in the Senate and with this Committee to be sure that we craft a ban that prohibits this extreme animal cruelty and survives judicial scrutiny.

"Today the Committee will receive testimony from two witnesses: Nancy Perry, Vice President for Government Affairs for the Humane Society of the United States and Dr. Kevin Volkin, a psychologist and Professor at California State University Channel Islands. As we all know, the Humane Society has been a longstanding champion against animal cruelty and is intimately familiar with the problem of animal crush videos. Dr. Volkin is an expert in atypical psychopathology. He will help us to understand more fully the sexual component of animal crush videos."

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