The internet can be a powerful medium for connecting us to information to combat animal cruelty, but it also can be a haven for animal abusers who celebrate and actively advertise their shocking crimes. The best way to stop this type of abuse is to immediately report it to the proper authorities and to refrain from contacting, visiting or forwarding links to the offending sites.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO REPORT SUSPECTED INTERNET ANIMAL CRUELTY?
Reporting any type of suspected animal cruelty may save animals’ lives as well as people’s lives. When animals are abused, people are also at risk. The link between animal abuse and other forms of societal violence is well-documented. That is why it is critical to immediately report conduct on the internet that you suspect may be — or that you know is — animal abuse.
IF I SEE ANIMAL CRUELTY ON THE INTERNET, WHAT SHOULD I DO?
- Immediately contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, at http://www.ic3.gov/. The website will direct you to the page where you can file your complaint. At first glance, it may appear that the website will only consider complaints of internet monetary fraud. However, IC3 is the proper venue for all internet crimes, including animal abuse.
- IC3 can best process your complaint if the information you provide is as detailed and complete as possible. This includes providing the complete URL (website address) for the website that displayed the suspected animal cruelty.
- Even if you are located outside the United States, IC3 will review your report as long as the suspected abuser is located in the United States.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER I FILE A REPORT WITH THE IC3?
- IC3 will email your report ID and password to you, along with a link to an area on the IC3 website where you can view your report and enter any additional information.
- Upon receipt of your report, IC3 will carefully evaluate it and refer it to the appropriate federal, state, local or international law enforcement or regulatory agencies. Every report is sent to one or more law enforcement or regulatory agencies that have jurisdiction over the matter. At that point, the report may be assigned to an investigator. IC3 cannot guarantee that your complaint will be investigated.
HOW DOES THE LAW CURRENTLY HANDLE INTERNET ANIMAL CRUELTY?
Because communications through the internet have the ability to cross state lines, the internet is largely governed by federal law. Improving the federal laws as they pertain to internet animal abuse is critical. Currently, only a few federal laws address the issue directly:
- In 2010, Congress passed the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act (PL 111-294), banning the creation and distribution of “crush” videos, where individuals viciously torture, mutilate and kill small animals. However, this did not cover the underlying acts of animal abuse, which can occur beyond the reach of state cruelty laws. On November 25, 2019, the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act was signed into law, extending federal jurisdiction to these crimes. The PACT Act does the following:
- Defines “animal crushing” as “actual conduct in which 1 or more [animals] is intentionally crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or otherwise subjected to serious bodily injury…”
- Prohibits intentionally engaging in “animal crushing in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce,” whether or not committed for the purpose of creating a crush video.
- Enables federal intervention when the cruelty extends beyond the reach or resources of state prosecutors.
- Bans the creation and distribution of crush videos.
- Provides for felony charges, fines and up to seven years in prison.
- The Crush Act (P.L.106-152) penalizes the display of acts of cruelty and sexual abuse of animals that is intended for interstate commerce. If convicted, offenders may receive up to five years in prison or a large fine. Two criteria must be met before this statute applies: 1) actual abuse must occur and 2) the website in question must intend to sell the images across state lines. In other words, a website may legally display images of animal cruelty and sexual abuse under this law as long as it is not charging visitors for access or otherwise selling the images. In 2005, the first conviction under this statute occurred in a federal district court in Virginia.
- The Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act (P.L. 110-27) strengthens the ability of law enforcement to combat animal fighting by providing felony penalties for interstate commerce, import and export related to animal fighting activities, including commerce in cockfighting weapons. Each violation of this federal law is punishable by up to three years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine for perpetrators.
- Internet Hunting: The Computer-Assisted Remote Hunting Act (H.R. 2711/S. 2422) is a pending federal bill introduced by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). It seeks to prohibit knowingly making available a “computer-assisted remote hunt” (using a computer or other device, equipment or software to control the aiming and discharge of a weapon to hunt).