Creepy To Catch a Predator

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

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.

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32 Responses to “Creepy To Catch a Predator

  1. #1 |  martin | 

    It doesn’t matter how few the actual cases of online seduction of minors. Zero must be the obvious goal when the well-being of children is involved. /s

    The sexiness of the topic is irresistable to Joe-Q-Public, the cops and especially the politicians. A whole army of bureaucrats and private organisations depend on it. Having taken its methods from the war on drugs, the war on sex crime will eventually replace it. Lies and misinformation are rampant, overbroad laws are passed with ease, enforcement becomes ever more intrusive and mindless. Nobody will ever be able to argue that it should be abolished – what great prospects for future careers.
    If we act on the claim that relatives and acquaintances are most of the guilty, what a bright future for us all: Every father, every uncle, every friend, every teacher, as long as they’re male, a prospective “predator”. Every look, every move, every touch scrutinised and questioned. What a bright future for us all!
    Think I’m exaggerating? Hardly. Look around.

  2. #2 |  Joel Rosenberg | 

    I dunno. I think the observation that this is, by and large, an overhyped problem is spot-on. That said, a guy who can be “entrapped” into going to have sex with what he thinks is, say, a 12-year-old kid — regardless of the blandishments — is, I think, a major league creep. And assuming that the NBC reporter is correct that many of these are folks with real sex crimes and convictions in their past, I’m not bothered by them being so easily enticed into trying to have sex with children again.

    Exploitive by NBC? Sure. And there’s gambling taking place in casinos.

  3. #3 |  Anthony | 

    Yes, its all OK because its “for the children.”

  4. #4 |  Persona non grata | 

    Sex sells.

    Whether the predator is man or woman it is wrong. There are very few black and white issues in life, I believe this to be one of them.

    Adults are expected to control their sexual, among other, urges. Our society places this burden upon its adult members so that we may enjoy the benefits of living in an mutually cooperative society.

    If we allow our young to be victimized what does that say about our culture?

    Yes, I know we already allow for the victimization of large swaths of our population, whether it be sexual or other, without redress or recourse for the victims.

    To paraphrase Ghandi, “you can judge a society by how it treats their animals”

    What can be said of a society that allows its very weakest members, its old and young and poor and under-privilaged, to be exploited in every which way to the fancy the powerful?

    Can this society call itself civil?


    Is it predatory?

    Do it for the kids, yeah.

  5. #5 |  Radley Balko | 

    See the passage above — 90 percent of the people nabbed on TCAP had no prior record.

  6. #6 |  MikeT | 

    It is immoral to go out with the intent of shoving a vice into the face of a weak person, hoping to catch them breaking the law. Many people would be up in arms if this show were trying to coax alcoholics into drinking at a bar and driving home. “To Catch a Drunk Driver” would be soundly denounced as a terrible show that preys on alcoholics and puts the public in danger.

  7. #7 |  Joel Rosenberg | 

    RB: fair enough. And we can quibble over whether 10% is “many” or not, if you’d like. It’s still preposterously creepy for a grown man to send pictures of genitalia to what he believes is a twelve-year-old kid, and then show up at what he thinks is her (or his) house with condoms and booze to “just talk” (yeah, sure).

    My real objection to the dramatics of the show are the cops who play dress-up games — bunches of them leaping out in their paramilitary garb to point guns all over the place in situations where there’s no reason to think that’s necessary. (And, in fact, at least some of the cooperating PDs don’t play that particular game.)

  8. #8 |  Druff | 

    You’re supposed to wish for the instant death of those poor shmucks though. That’s the polite reaction. Them, and maybe SUV drivers.

    Call in the state to “fix” it, with the precision of a dentist using a power drill and salad tongs. Brought to you by our mewling demands for an entirely risk free life, courtesy of the gov’t.

  9. #9 |  Rudi666 | 

    Ohio cops are doing a similar sting in a Columbus park. Will a sleazy Fox or MSNBC show be far off?

  10. #10 |  lowrads | 

    I think there’s cause to have arms length pity for most such individuals, since they are obviously incapable of forming relationships with persons in their own age group. Court ordered psychological therapy for non-violent offenders would be a lot more productive.

  11. #11 |  André Kenji | 

    Twelve year olds are smarter than most people here thinks. It´s impossible for a grown-up that these girls doesn´t even know to convince them to go with them to somekind of unknow place(That´s surpassing her parents vigilance). Using the same philosophy, we should abolish cars because one traffic death would be too much.

    That´s kind of thinking is creating a whole generation of people that´s emotionally dependent and unable to do the most primary things.

  12. #12 |  Tom Paine | 

    Let’s use some common sense.

    First, the lack of a record does not signify the lack of having committed a prior crime, whether inchoate or completed, on the part of the guys who are busted. It’s not like the producers troll profiles and start sending out unsolicited emails; rather these guys send IMs and emails to girls (including decoys) who are supposed to be underage.

    Second, I agree, it’s not a mental illness per se for someone to want to have sex with a post-pubescent girl, but it’s still illegal. Parents obviously don’t want it to happen. I think having children radically changes one’s instincts on this issue, probably more than any other factor. Until one does, it’s easy to think “those pesky laws/restrictions/authorities etc.” Afterwards, it’s like: thank God they’re going after these sick bastards.

    Finally, even if they are coaxed, the law of entrapment only engages when one creates a crime where one would otherwise not exist and, more important, the person in question did not have a preexisting criminal intent. By taking the drive to these girls houses (or other rendezvous) these guys separate themselves significantly from guys jackin’ off to their fantasies. I agree the media shouldn’t be doing this and it’s a bit vouyeristic, but these guys are completely unsympathetic. It’s no different than buy-bust operations; it’s not like guys otherwise undisposed to start smoking crack all of a sudden do so because some decoy drug dealer says “Holla!”

    It would be a sad day for libertarianism to make itself further irrelevant by championing the cause of adult-minor sex, along with legalizing drugs, making apologies for cop killers, flag burning, and all the other stuff that rubs 95% or more of Americans the wrong way.

  13. #13 |  Ultima Ratio | 

    Tom Paine: in the same sense that we defend free speech for people we vehemently disagree with (because otherwise it’s not truly “free”), we defend due process for people we find despicable.

  14. #14 |  Russ 2000 | 

    I’ll be sure to catch the show… the next time their sting operation nets a police officer trolling for tweenagers.

  15. #15 |  Sam | 

    The morality of the activities involved and the question of entrapment are important issues, but I think fade behind an obvious issue that most people seem to breeze over after reading a story like Balko’s.

    We have limited criminal justice system resources and they are insufficient to stamp out every crime that exists. The percentage of these resources put towards dealing with sex offenses is rather great compared to the number that occur, and are certainly applied inefficiently. Police officers regularly tell me, an offender, that they wish they could stop spending all their time keeping track of people who will likely never reoffend and couldn’t be stopped by our policies if they did. I ask every one I come into contact with, and 9 of the last 12 (last 26 months, I keep track) I spoke to say our media-driven obsession with catching “pedophiles” keeps them from investigating complaints that might prevent an actual crime from occurring. The “media-driven obsession” comment comes from one of them.

    We can feel like we’re doing something with all this feel good crap, or we can actually do something. It’s your choice, my choices no longer exist…I just get to call you blind, weak, and foolish.

  16. #16 |  John David Galt | 

    I see no problem with a large number of stings if nearly all of the people they catch would have committed the crime anyway. But I’m not at all convinced that the current crop of stings meets this standard.

    I would like to see the law require that all interactions, especially the initial communication, between the decoy(s) and the suspect be recorded and that the prosecution can’t keep the jury from seeing any of them for any reason. Only then can we be sure that entrapment (in the legal sense: creation of crimes that would not otherwise occur) isn’t taking place.

    I would also like to see the law take the whole situation into account. It’s always unacceptable abuse when a family member, or a trusted person like a teacher, babysitter, or priest, takes advantage of a child. But I’ve known people who got in trouble because a teenage girl successfully posed as an adult for the purpose of going to an adult party and getting laid — and it seems to me that in that case, the guy has done no wrong, whether he sees through the deception or not.

  17. #17 |  parse | 

    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 won’t quarrel with your claim that there’s a distinction between men attracted to post-pubescent but underaged partners and pedophiles–who are attractred to pre-pubescent children. But I don’t think you’ve captured the distinction by labeling the former a “natural, hard-wired attraction.” Are you claiming that the basis of pedophile attraction is not “hard-wired” in the sense that the sexual orientation of others is? What evidence do you know that supports that claim? Or are you trying to suggest that, while both are based on biological factors, the attraction to post-pubescent adolescents is “normal” while pedophile attraction is “abnormal”? Are you trying to say something other than the fact that one is more common than the other?

  18. #18 |  Zeb | 

    Of course the one is normal and the other not. Men’s attraction to sexually developed women/girls has a proper and necessary biological function. Pedophilia, while it may be “hard wired” in some sense does not. Nothing happens when you turn 18, but there certainly is a real difference between pre- and post- pubescent children.

  19. #19 |  parse | 

    Zeb, the problem is that “normal” has a number of different connotations, and it’s not clear to me which one Radley wants to invoke here, or what useful information is conveyed by the label. One meaning of normal is “occuring natually,” so if you agree that pedophilia is hard wired, then it is by definition normal. The primary meaning, according to Merriam Webster online, is that normal means confirming to a norm; in that sense, Radley’s comment is close to tautology. I’m not saying he’s wrong; I’m saying I don’t know what he means.

  20. #20 |  Pete Walker | 

    “Men’s attraction to sexually developed women/girls has a proper and necessary biological function. Pedophilia, while it may be “hard wired” in some sense does not.”
    Actually, there is psychological evidence that adult-child relationships of all types, including sexual or pseudo-sexual, do indeed have an important function throughout the development of most cultures. Examples include Leonardo Davinci’s relationship with his Uncle, the prophet Mohammad, Mahatma Gandhi, and countless clergy of every denomination. It turns out that the extra attention the sexual attraction brings is beneficial to the social development of the child and to the inspiration and self-esteem of the adult.
    Past cultures have even institutionalized such relationships, but western culture has never come to terms, nor is modern legal theory capable of the nuances needed to separate harmful and beneficial relationships. Adding the media paradigm to this puritanical confusion defies even metaphorical description.

  21. #21 |  thinker | 

    What I find so strange about the whole thing is that 50 years ago a 27 year old man could marry a 14 year old girl. Now this is a crime? Why? Social standards have changed, human psychology has not.

    Males are naturally attracted to young, HEALTHY, females. This applies to all mammals, humans are no exception. 18 is a number modern law puts out there and means nothing biologically.

    When you see a teenage girl showing cleavage, dont check it out. or else your might ” need to have a seat right over there”.

  22. #22 |  wifeneedsanswers | 

    anyone know what the common sentencing is for these people on the first offense? aren’t they charged with “indescent solicitation of a child”?

  23. #23 |  Mark, FL | 

    As many years as “To Catch a Predator” has been on TV, the stupidity still remains with the potential predator who thinks he may possibly have sex with somebody under sixteen. Most have been married men with families and good careers. While teens may be curious about sex with somebody that much older it is the responsibility of the adult to keep the chat appropriate or terminate the chat, nevermind, attempting, to meet the teen alone or sending pornographic pictures online after being told the other person is fifteen or younger. It’s true. Real teens will be inappropriate. I may not be aware of any laws regarding chatting with minors but obviously requesting sex online from a minor, sending naked photos or attempting to meet these minors while unsupervised is the real issue, especially since these same people wouldn’t want a grown man they don’t know to meet their children while unsupervised.

  24. #24 |  Mark, FL | 

    It also seems to me Perverted Justice’s hands are tied. While they must follow specific rules to prevent from being sued for entrapment, a real teen will not follow any rules. This makes it too easy for a potential predator to tell the difference between a setup or the real thing, but, not necessarily, a premeditated hate crime against a possible predator. I’m sure that happens.

  25. #25 |  Ted | 

    You know instead of busting 100’s of guys, who may or ****MAY NOT ( You do not always know whats going through one’s head)****** have intentions of having sex with these underaged girls, I think that their time could be better spent finding ways to make the internet safer for children. To me it just seems like they are more concerned about ” getting the ratings up” rather than true justice. Also has anyone ever noticed how they only have men on the show? I mean come on there are creepy women out there as well.

  26. #26 |  wifeneedsanswers | 

    ted, i am praising your comment as i’m typing. although i do understand that the implication between the adult and teen is that there will be sex, you don’t ACTUALLY KNOW that all of these men would have actually gone through with sex. The fact that it didn’t happen, period, should be taken into consideration. I think that some men are going through what you might call a midlife crisis, need to feel young again, and it manifests itself in this “game” that they are playing with these girls. I am actually associated with a man who spoke to a 16 year old about sex. He says that it would have never gone the whole way, it was only talk. He realized that having sex with her was a crime, but never did he realize that TALKING only was just as serious in the eyes of the law. Although still a little strange, he just wanted to know that he COULD if he wanted to. It’s a midlife crisis ego thing. Sixteen represents the prime of his life. He is now labeled a sex offender, albeit for 10 yrs. instead of for life, but has all of the same consequences and limitations that a man who lurked in a schoolyard, kidnapped a 5 yr. old and raped her would have during his 10 yr. labelling. I think this is absolutely rediculous. Books on the subject will tell you that a person who is attracted to a 16 yr. old is not attracted to a 6 yr old and their incidence of reoffending is about 2%. It’s indecent solicitation they’re charged with, not aggrevated child abuse. And although I do feel sorry for the girl he did this to, I do not believe that his behavior warrants jail time and a sex offender labeling. Any thoughts? This subject just gets me so wound up.

  27. #27 |  Unreality Primetime | » Odd Programmes of the Week | 

    […] the absolutely brilliant show, ‘To Catch a Predator’ is on FX at 10pm. American TV presenter Chris Hansen, along with local police and a team of […]

  28. #28 |  Stef | 

    I still don’t understand what law these men have broken. The “victims” are fictitious, the decoys are not underage. How could they attempt to have sex with a minor that doesn’t exist? I understand that this is supposed to prevent them from ever being able to try it with a real underage girl or boy, but this is America. Our justice system is supposed to only punish crimes, people are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty of a crime. These men are convicted for crimes that they couldn’t possibly commit, no matter how much they want to.

  29. #29 |  Rob | 

    I would love to see every sex offender behind bars…but the their does seem to be some entrapment involved with these “alleged offenders”..After watching some of the “To Catch a Predator” investigative programs I believed that many of the offenders had intentions of meeting an under aged child but! I don’t agree with the tactics the show used. Many of these alleged offenders were led to believe that Chris Hanson was a police officer by Chris Hanson himself. I felt that Hansons actions , questions, and instructions to the offenders to keep their hands out their pockets, sit down, answer the question went a little bit too far..these are tactics that a law enforcement official would utilize. not something an investigative reporter should be doing. I also believe that most of these men were complete idiots to speak to Hanson or the police without legal representation..I’m sure the Producers of “To Catch a Predator” have alot of clips of the other men who refused to answer questions because it would obviously effect the ratings of the show. It’s unfortunate but it appears that show was more interested in humilating these men on television, and showing only what would sway an audience. How many of these offenders were actually convicted? released, and not convicted?

  30. #30 |  Paul | 

    How come with all the female teachers getting busted for having sex with minors, a woman is never nabbed on To Catch a Predator?

  31. #31 |  Mr Hate | 

    “The State must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people. As long as government is perceived as working for the benefit of children, the people happily will endure almost any curtailment of liberty.”

    – Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

  32. #32 |  SmileyJohnsen | 

    I think the idea is noble but also is riddled with legal issues.

    1. Entrappment in most the cases
    2. Wiretap laws broken

    Why Entrapment, the preditors are encouraged to meet with the underage person, Mean while this chat group perverted justice is paid to do this so there is money at stake here.

    ok now for the the wiretap law.

    Since the location of the meeting place is a house (residence) it is not a public place.
    When the preditor enters the home, they are video taped in secret for the first 15 minutes.
    Now during this time, the preditor is unaware of the taping.
    His/Her rights have been violated and the flip side is “To Catch A Preditor” Or Dateline have just committed a Federal Felony , not to mention any local state laws on wiretap.

    Think of it this way, The president of the united states comes in to your home (Not public but private residence) Can you secretly record your conversation with him and not tell him about the secret video taping?

    No the Secret service will be so far up your @$$ that it wouldn’t even be funny, not to mention you will end up in jail.

    Why do you think DA’s are not touching these cases. Each person who is not convicted can sue the police for False arrest , False imprisonment and walk away with millions.

    I think that this process of Dateline needs to be thought out completely.
    Like ask their lawyers or a criminal law lawyer what they can and can’t do.

    Not to mention the guys who get off can sue Dateline for Slander…..