Oregon’s Jeff Merkley working to stop ‘crush videos’ that show animal torture

Just over a decade ago, Congress passed a law banning depictions of animal cruelty. The law was intended to crack down on so-called crush videos, which typically show women killing small animals by stepping on them with stiletto heels.

Animal rights activists say the law, passed in 1999, helped keep the videos from being sold to sexual deviants.

But in April, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the law. In an 8-to-1 ruling on a case involving trade in dog fighting videos, the court determined that the law was so broadly written that it violated First Amendment rights of free speech.

So now, with a wave of crush videos reappearing on pornographic and other illicit websites, Congress is moving to ban sales of the videos for good. The House  passed legislation in July, co-authored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland, that narrows the 1999 law by exempting videos on hunting and fishing, for example, or showing customary veterinary and animal husbandry practices. The Senate is working on a version of its own.

“All Americans can understand that the deliberate and illegal torture of animals should not be turned into a video for sale and commercial production,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who’s sponsoring the Senate proposal along with two Republicans, Sens. Jon Kyl  of Arizona and Richard Burr  of North Carolina.

Merkley, at a news conference Thursday at the Oregon Humane Society, said he expects debate on the proposal in the next few weeks. The sooner a new law is passed, he said, the better.

“We’ve seen a resurgence of these crush videos,” Merkley said. “We want to shut down the practice as soon as possible.”