Years ago when I worked at a house of domination in NYC’s Chelsea district, there were a handful of clients who were memorable for breaking up the run-of-the-mill fetish (foot worship, spanking, bondage, role playing, repeat) monotony. One was a dude I never saw, but only heard about whenever one of the few Mistresses capable of handling his fantasy would dip out of the emotionally exhausting session to vent in the dressing room. As far as I know he was our only client who spent his high-priced hour rhapsodizing about killing and eating his relatives.
While this man was certainly unusual, even within the grand unusual scheme of S&M, no one at our dungeon thought to report him to any authorities. No one believed for a minute that he was seriously capable of feasting on his wife. Not even when he brought in a live duck in a cage, requesting to slaughter it during an upcoming session. (Fortunately, an animal-loving dominatrix rescued the poor bird, and later spun a ridiculous tale about how it had somehow escaped when no one was looking.) If anything, the cannibal client was a source of exasperation and amusement, not a perceived threat to society.
I thought of this client while watching the recent HBO documentary Thought Crimes, filmmaker Erin Lee Carr’s portrait of Gil Valle, a NYC police officer better known as “The Cannibal Cop” after Valle’s online life became the subject of a criminal conspiracy investigation. The unassuming Valle, it seems, spent his downtime chatting with like-minded cannibal fantasists on the Dark Fetish Network about abducting, torturing, and cooking his wife and female friends. When his wife ultimately uncovered the horrifying details via the spyware she’d installed on her husband’s computer, she promptly went to the NYPD, terrified for her life. This, in turn, set into motion an arrest and a tabloid free-for-all—and led to more questions than answers. Though Valle never laid a finger (let alone a utensil) on anyone, he faced a life sentence for what he swore was strictly anonymous musings. Yet like with kiddie porn—in which downloading can often get a pedophile more jail time than can actually molesting a child—the Internet has proven fertile ground for both freedom of thought and judicial prosecution.
But also like with child porn—in which real kids in staged photos have been harmed—Valle despicably crossed a line. While I truly believe that Dark Fetish Network served as a “safe” space akin to a BDSM dungeon for Valle—and that the majority of folks who visit fetish sites and houses of domination have no intention of ever acting on their most extreme fantasies in real life—he did do the equivalent of bringing in a duck: involving an actual sentient being in a nonconsensual context. Valle is guilty of unconscionable stupidity—not conspiracy—for researching one of his fantasy victims via the police database. In doing so he infringed on the privacy of a real human being.
In the end, illegal use of a police database is rightly the only charge that stuck in “The Cannibal Cop” case—after a long and arduous, Kafkaesque journey through the legal system for Valle, that even included a judge’s unusual overturning of a jury sentence. Watching Thought Crimes, I couldn’t help but think that if that original jury had been made up of a dozen dominatrices, thousands of taxpayer dollars could have been saved, just like that one lucky duck.