Cannibal Porn Is Protected by the First Amendment. But What About the Cannibal Cop?

Gilberto Valle, the infamous NYPD "cannibal cop" who was arrested by the FBI in late October for having "detailed, strategic discussions" about killing, cooking, and eating women he knew in real life, is on trial this week as the defense and prosecutors argue over the difference between fantasy and reality. What's more important: the right to fantasize about skewering unconsenting women from mouth to vagina, or the right to protect yourself from being the unwitting subject of fantasies that could very well come true?

Valle's lawyer, Julia Gatto, says the case is "about seeing the difference between the real world and the pretend world on the internet." But the lead prosecutor for the government, Randall Jackson, is arguing that Valle "crossed the line between masturbatory banter and criminal intent" when "what he thought and what he typed online bled over into what he planned to do," according to Slate.

His wife is in the "he was really trying to kill me" camp. She told the court she felt Valle's fantasy crossed into dangerous territory when, for example, he questioned her about her jogging route (why didn't she want to run alone when there were less people around?) and sent pictures of her to the friends he met on Dark Fetish Net; he had plans to tie her feet and slit her throat so that he and his pals could "have fun watching the blood rush out." Government evidence backs her stance up — Valle entered the names of his intended victims into a police database to learn their home addresses — and some of his online conversations imply serious planning. "You WILL go through with this?" one co-conspirator asked him. "I've been let down before."

But the wife of his close fantasy partner-in-crime Michael Van Hise — the duo worked out a bargain in which Valle would kidnap and deliver one of his IRL friends to his buddy for some woman-barbecuing fun — has said that her husband's fetish was "disturbing" but total fantasy. "You have to accept your partner's flaws in a marriage," she told the New York Daily News.. "He's a "big teddy bear," she said, and "as hard-core as a baby."

Valle's lawyer claims that his fantasies wouldn't have been satisfying if they weren't realistic, because "claiming that the fantasies are real is central to the fantasies themselves; a role-play transpires in layers of fantasy talk, and then fantasy talk about that talk."

But why does Valle's fantasy deserve more protection than the women he planned to devour in painstaking detail?

There are limitations to free speech — "advocacy of the use of force" is unprotected when it is "directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action" and is "likely to incite or produce such action." Shouldn't there be limitations to fantasy as well, especially when it directly involves the well-being of another person?

I spent some time this morning perusing the cannibal forums on Dark Fetish Net and was extremely disturbed by what I found there, not so much by the fact that "role play slaughter" exists but because the vast majority of people being roasted on a spit are women who look like blow-up toys. Examples of photos I came across include "battered babe, "rosted bunny girl," "bunny pretzel," and "babe sausage." It's a big internet out there, and I'm sure there are some women who fantasize about eating men and men who fantasize about being eaten by women, but I couldn't find any on Dark Fetish Net, or on sites like Muki's Kitchen, run by a married couple who tell their visitors that everything on the site is "good old-fashioned, woman-eating, femme-feasting, girl-gobbing fun!"

It seems very wrong to ignore the connection between the way these men dream of treating women and the way they think of women when they're offline, given that — to cite just one relevant and sobering statistic — more than three women are murdered by their partners every day in the United States, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics.

In a recent New York Times piece this week about the kink community called "A Hush-Hush Topic No More" (which provides a good overview for the uninitiated but will probably make those even slightly familiar with kink roll their eyes), author and psychologist Dr. Charley Ferrer said that BDSM aficionados tend to be great communicators:

"In the vanilla world," Dr. Ferrer said, you wait for your partner to mess up before you set the rules. "In the dominant/submissive relationship, you're constantly talking, constantly communicating," she added. "In the D-S community, there is such a high level of communication that the couples last so much longer."

If you're involving the women in your life in your calculated cannibal porn fantasy, should you be allowed to cut them out of the conversation? Some women might be fine or even excited about the concept of being boiled alive by the men in their life; Van Hise's wife seems to have come to terms with her husband's fondness for cannibal porn. But Valle's wife felt that she was in real danger; the father of her child was telling his friends he wanted to torture, kill and eat her and seemed to be taking tangible steps in that direction.

The Daily Beast points out a downside (to say the least) of protecting all forms of theoretical sadism:

...cannibal porn has led to some of the darkest crimes in the past year. In June 2012, Canadian former porn star Luka Magnotta became the subject of an international search after allegedly murdering his lover and sending body parts throughout the country, including to the offices of the Conservative and Liberal parties. To top it all off, Magnotta allegedly uploaded a video to cannibal-porn site called bestgore.com that featured him dismembering the body and then masturbating with the body parts and anally penetrating the corpse.

Would Valle have gone that far? We'll probably hear him proclaim otherwise when he takes the stand next week, but we'll never know for sure.