Rolling Stone is the latest magazine to run a feature skeptical of the creepy NBC series. This quote may surprise some people:
Even more disturbing, anti-predator stings involving decoys may actually outnumber crimes involving real victims. On an early episode of To Catch a Predator, Dateline estimated that there are 50,000 predators online at any moment — a number the show pretty much made up out of thin air, though that didn’t stop Attorney General Alberto Gonzales from citing it as fact in a speech last year. But a study conducted by the University of New Hampshire estimated that there were fewer than 2,900 arrests for online sexual offenses against minors in a single year. What’s more, only 1,152 involved victims who were approached by strangers on the Internet — and more than half this number were actually cops posing as kids.
So for all of this hype, there are really only 500-600 cases per year of a stranger approaching a minor online for sex.
This is interesting, too:
Although To Catch a Predator fosters the belief that child molesters are largely violent and untreatable, sex offenders actually have the lowest rearrest rates of all convicts. According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, only five percent of convicted sex offenders re-offend in three years, and studies show that fewer than one in four commit another sex crime in fifteen years. Men who rape women are more likely to return to their old ways than pedophiles who molest girls.
What’s more, Perverted Justice’s tactics may actually make the threat of child sex abuse worse instead of better. While the group has caught dangerous predators who eluded other law-enforcement methods, ninety percent of the men busted on To Catch a Predator have no rap sheet, and few have any sort of sex offense on their record. By whipping up public frenzy about online strangers, Perverted Justice diverts attention from the real source of child sex abuse: relatives and acquaintances.
There’s much more that’s wrong with this show. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of creating crimes where there otherwise would be none in the first place. But it gets worse when the zealots at Perverted Justice are the ones doing the baiting. And it seems pretty clear that they’re pressuring men to bite who would otherwise have reservations. They also refuse to turn over the complete transcripts of the chats that led to the stings. I also think there’s an important distinction between men who arrange for with sex post-pubescent girls below the age of consent, and men who prey on young girls and boys who haven’t yet reached sexual maturity. The former is a natural, hard-wired attraction. I agree with laws that put the age of consent at somewhere between 16 and 18, which means I agree that people who break those laws ought to face some sort of penalty. The hard-wired attraction, then, is countered by by the promise of punishment, and hopefully one’s own recognition of the exploitive nature of engaging in sex with someone not psychological or emotionally mature enough to make good decisions about physical relationships.
But there’s something sleazy, unfair, and itself exploitative about sending an attractive girl (who sometimes is of age, but poses as underage) out to tap those natural impulses, removing the social barriers to acting on them (by giving the targets anonymity, the promise of no-strings-attached sex, and massaging away their apprehension), pouncing on the weak-willed men, then raking in cash from advertisers while showing the whole thing on television.