Several squads of brave men and women put themselves in harm’s way by pretending to be underage children online–and then catching the sexual predators who respond to the bait. And you can join them.
After a predator engages, these online superheroes usually report the chat logs to police, or they video and shame the person online. Even when potential predators can’t be charged (you usually can’t go to jail for a crime you haven’t committed yet), the leaked chat logs protect future children: a math teacher in New York lost his job after superhero Tony Blas revealed his logs, and in Pennsylvania, online superhero Lehrian caught a police deputy and forced him to resign.
As with all superhero phenomena, there are policemen and nay-sayers who oppose this. From a Local12.com post:
“[Police officer] Ausdenmoore says Ohio law is clear: The victim has to be a real minor or a police officer posing as one.
‘The phenomenon is not new. It’s extremely dangerous,’ he said.
Ausdenmoore points to Dateline’s ‘To Catch a Predator’ series. He says the people setting up the stings are putting themselves in danger for no good reason.
‘Desperate people do desperate things, and when they’re desperate, they will do things that are dangerous,’ Ausdenmoore said.
But Lehrian [online superhero] says that won’t stop her.
‘In my experience, from every bust that I have seen, all of these child predators, they cowered down,’ she said. ‘My goal is then to have his picture, have his video, all over social media. Everybody’s going to know what he did.’
Weeks [online superhero] is also willing to put himself in harm’s way.
‘My safety is far less concerning than a child’s, I believe,’ he said.”
In other states where the law allows more leeway, these superheroes have actually gotten predators put up on charges and in some cases convicted. Point number one for your superhero training: check your local laws.
Consider also creating a group. Tony Blas, a big strong scary-looking dude, has a bunch of at-home moms trolling the internet while he goes out in person for the actual stings.
Don’t break the law yourself, though. I’m all for individual responsibility to change the world, but I will never recommend you just go and beat someone up you met online; anyone can find redemption, everyone’s got a purpose on this planet, and violence is usually just not worth the risk to your personhood. Does that sound awful? Dude, I get it. I understand hating someone who’s capable of horrific things. As a sexual assault medical forensic examiner, I’ve been trained on compassion for both victims and suspects of hateful crimes, and it hurts my heart almost physically. Consider training yourself to have nonviolent strength that promotes justice without hate. Bad guys still don’t get to escape the consequences. They’ve got to go down. Innocent people need protecting. Sometimes you’ve got to stand in harm’s way and maybe sometimes you’ve got to throw a punch–but as Yoda says, hate leads to suffering.
And as Jace says in Becoming Hero, there’s a difference between a superhero and a vigilante. A superhero saves people. A vigilante, like the police, just dishes out punishment after the fact and doesn’t actually improve the situation for the victim.
That’s why I love these online predator stings: they protect the victim ahead of time, they force the hand of justice, and they reach where most of us don’t have the power to speak. In real life, predators in high profile, high trust occupations like teachers and police officers often escape our notice until after something awful’s happened. On the internet’s superhero chatrooms, everyone’s equal.
And this may sound strange, but the online stings are actually a compassionate solution, too. They protect the innocent, and in some cases, they protect the predator from himself. Confused? Well, rather than allowing the predator to make the worst mistake in his life, these online superheroes stop him from working evil and reveal that evil to the world–and to himself. If admission’s the first step to recovery, sometimes you have to be forced to admit. You have to find the cancer in yourself to treat it. And what happens to child predators in prison is no joke, so uh, in my eyes, prevention=good for everyone.
If you’re down to clown, here’s the cyber tip line to report attempts to solicit children online: http://www.missingkids.org/gethelpnow/cybertipline Learning online MMORPGs gives you a leg up, since a lot of predators hand out in games, and of course you can find bad guys through Facebook, ads, and dating sites. Study up, or maybe ask your local police if you can volunteer for them. Report to the police early: the more legitimate you make this, and the more the police get involved, the more likely a charge will stick.
Questions? Comments, concerns? Let’s hear it in the forum. There are so very many ethical quandaries here: guilt before an incident, the role of government versus the responsibility of the individual, and of course we all want to find solutions to improve safety for children. What do you propose?