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'Crush' Case Shows the Importance of Blowing the Whistle on Animal Abuse

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Never doubt that one person can make a difference. One person did by alerting PETA to disturbing video footage online of animals being tortured and killed for sexual gratification. This week, Houston, Tex., residents Brent Justice and Ashley Nicole Richards were indicted by a federal grand jury for creating and distributing what are known as "crush" videos. This is the first time in U.S. history that a crush case has resulted in federal charges. And it's all thanks to a tip that PETA received from one concerned individual.

Crush videos depict women torturing animals to death to satisfy the sexual fetishes of those who watch them. PETA's Emergency Response Team worked around the clock to find the perpetrators who had crushed kittens and rats with their stiletto heels and used knives, pliers and screwdrivers to torture puppies and other animals who were tied down and could not escape. With skillful sleuthing and the invaluable assistance of the Animal Beta Project, PETA determined that the alleged producers of the videos lived in Houston and rushed the evidence to local authorities.

After we sent our tip, it took only 48 hours for Justice and Richards to be arrested -- the pair has remained in jail since August -- and their despicable crush video cell was shut down. This case should serve as a warning to anyone who would abuse and torture animals: Sooner or later, you will get caught.

The videos show utter depravity and absolutely no ability to empathize with the victims. In one, Richards binds and gags a kitten with masking tape and then stomps and crushes the animal, putting her high-heeled shoe through the kitten's eye. Another video shows Richards killing a pit bull puppy by using a meat cleaver to hack off his leg and tail and a knife to slash his neck. When the pair was arrested, the Houston Chronicle reported that a judge "halted the reading of the court documents during a hearing ... because the details were too graphic."

Making and distributing crush videos is rightly a violation of federal law. But all forms of animal abuse, federal offenses or not, need to be taken very seriously, for everyone's sake.

Mental health and law enforcement experts know that the bullies and cowards who abuse animals often cross species lines. The American Psychiatric Association identifies cruelty to animals as one of the diagnostic criteria for conduct disorders, and the FBI uses reports of animal abuse in analyzing the threat potential of suspected and known criminals. The link between cruelty to animals and interpersonal violence is undeniable. When PETA's Asia-Pacific affiliate (PETA Asia) investigated an international crush video ring in the Philippines, the group, working with local law enforcement, traced the videos' likely origin to a woman suspected of running a prostitution ring that used girls as young as 12. Scantily clad young girls were forced to torture and kill animals, including by ramming a stiletto heel into a monkey's eye and cutting off rabbits' ears with scissors. PETA ended up helping not only the animals but also the young girls, who were being victimized as well.

If you know or suspect that someone is harming animals, alert authorities immediately. The Houston crush video case is a testament to the vital importance of speaking up. Ashley Nicole Richards reportedly admitted to killing countless animals -- up to two per day -- for years. She would likely still be at it if that one person had not initially brought the abuse to PETA's attention.

Please, never be silent if you suspect that an animal is in danger. One phone call or email can truly mean the difference between life and death.

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