Punishing “thought crimes”

The “Cannibal Cop” case creates dangerous precedent for punishing thought crimes.

Hemang Sharma

The “Cannibal Cop,” as national headlines labeled him, Gilberto Valle was convicted of conspiracy to kidnap earlier this month.

Now an ex-police officer of New York, Valle, or “Girlmeat Hunter,” his online alter ego, fantasized about devouring women. The jury found his actions justified a conspiracy to kidnap charge, which included violent online messages and surveying his potential victims, none of whom were harmed.

Valle could see a sentence anywhere from 25 years to life for posting fictional accounts detailing his fantasies, some of which were detailed in recipes such as “feet soup as an appetizer” to “hunk of thigh as entrée.”

Valle posted all of these, and various other fantasies, on cannibalism-fetish websites, where he chatted up fellow cannibal, torture and fetish enthusiasts.

However, his explicit, suspicious and potentially violent fantasies end there for the most part. There was no evidence that he ever harmed anyone. He never made any attempt to abduct a potential victim. One could argue, as his lawyer did, that Valle was simply roleplaying and these websites were the safest outlets for these fantasies. For all intents and purposes, Valle was an upstanding citizen and a good police officer with no criminal record.

“I just like to get a little dirty with the ideas,” Valle said in an email to a fellow cannibalism enthusiast. Claiming this was all “make-believe,” he depicted a conscious separation of his ghastly thoughts and his inadmissible actions.

What Valle said he would do to that woman is sick and disgusting, but who are we to judge each other’s dark thoughts? In this country I thought we didn’t punish people for having untraditional, or even illegal, thoughts. This case has set a poor precedent, which could ultimately drive those with potentially illegal fantasies — though just fantasies — out of chat rooms for fear of punishment, which may have its own ramifications. At what point can we be punished simply for thinking outside of societal norms? This is where the danger lies.