Snuff movies: Fact or fiction?
16/10/2003 12:49 - (SA)
Pretoria - Shocked by reports of the alleged filming of the rape and murder of a Johannesburg woman, many South Africans are asking: are snuff movies real or merely an urban legend?
Interviewed this week, experts in a range of disciplines simply did not know.
"It would not surprise me if such movies existed," said Senior Superintendent Gerard Labuschagne, commander of the police's investigative psychology unit, which deals with sexual murder.
"People are killed all the time for no apparent reason. Would it be such a big step to put it on film for resale purposes?"
But he has never come across such a movie in South Africa nor knew of anyone who had.
An answer to the question seems as elusive as the film said to have been made of 18-year-old Tanya Flowerday's rape and murder in June.
"To date, we have found no movie," said police spokesperson Inspector Amanda Roestoff.
If claims were true that Flowerday's violent end was taped by her killers with the aim of selling the tape, this would be the first known such case in South Africa.
A snuff movie is pornographic in its nature, and entails the filming of a person being violently killed. They are made with a view to distribute.
Many articles on the internet maintain that snuff films in which people are actually killed are nothing but urban legend. They claim that law enforcement agencies have not yet found a single one.
Several web sites claim to offer such movies for free, but none could be found in a morning-long search.
Many of these same sites had obscurely printed disclaimer notes stating that women depicted as victims in what were touted as actual rape scenes were in fact models.
Johannesburg sex shop manager Clinton Mackintosh says he has never come across a snuff movie, but was convinced they could be found if one looked hard enough.
"I have a friend who saw such a movie once. He says he couldn't believe his eyes."
Another sex shop worker said he had never heard of such a thing and asked for a description.
The only person who could state emphatically that snuff films do exist was Interpol assistant director Hamish McCulloch in Lyon, France.
"There is no doubt that such films exist, many of which are available via the internet," he said in an e-mail conversation.
But pressed for substantiation, McCulloch was no longer available, having left on a mission. Nobody else at the agency was able to comment.
Originated in 1976
The concept of snuff movies is said to have originated in 1976 with the release of a film called "Snuff", promoted at the time as containing scenes of actual human death and mutilation. Its producers later admitted the movie was a farce.
Film and Publications Board officials said this week the Flowerday case was the first time they had even heard of such a thing as a snuff movie in South Africa.
Now that it has reared its head the matter would surely be considered by the board, said spokesperson Nana Makaula. It might have to be specifically legislated for.
"Our legislators never anticipated something like this," Makaula said.
As the law currently stands, it would theoretically not be illegal to own a snuff movie as long as it was watched in private, said another board spokesperson, Jean Westmore.
It would, however, be against the law to purchase such a movie in South Africa, to make a copy of it, or to show it to anybody else.
Internet law expert Ryk Meiring said he knew of no evidence that such films were available. Even if they were, it was highly unlikely that an ordinary person would be able to find them.
It was getting harder and harder to hide illegal actions on the internet, he said.
"I have no doubt that a person looking for such things on the internet would be identified by the national prosecuting agencies within a matter of minutes."
If such films existed, they were probably circulated among closed groups using encryption and other specialised technology.
Labuschagne said it might not be impossible that real snuff movies had found their way into South Africa, and had been hidden.
"But of course, until we find the real thing, we cannot make an unequivocal statement one way or the other."