Paedophile hunters; unprofessionals or unsung heroes?

Ian Mangan

The issue of internet safety among children has swarmed the Irish media more than ever in recent weeks following more and more reports on the dangers of internet predators. Stories of older men contacting young girls in their teens or even younger with the intention of meeting for sex have circulated in larger volumes than one might expect.

Recently, one of the most high-profile cases is that of RTE producer Kieran Creaven who was caught attempting to meet a girl in Leeds who he believed was 13 years old. What made this case so notorious was not just Kieran’s position in the media but also the way in which he was caught.

Creaven was caught as a result of an amateur sting operation in which a vigilante group entitled ‘Predator Exposure’ set up a false account on Facebook posing as the 13-year-old girl. Creaven had spoken to the girl over a number of weeks and sent her explicit images of himself before arranging to meet her in England.

Instead he was met by the group who filmed him for over an hour and confronted him about his intentions. The video was posted online and quickly went viral. Creaven was subsequently arrested and pleaded guilty to his charges. For as long as the internet and chat rooms have existed, so have predators who have utilised it to get access to children. While the concept of vigilante predator hunters seem to be a fairly new phenomenon it can be traced back as far as the early 2000’s.

The first wide spread exposure to this movement first came about when US news series MSNBC set up a series entitled ‘To Catch a Predator’. Led by journalist Chris Hanson, the show operated on the same basis of setting up a number of sting operations and worked with local police in order to bring these predators into the public eye and to justice. The show came to an abrupt end after state prosecutor Louis Conradt shot himself when he realised the sting had targeted him.

It began to bring the ethics of such operations into question and whether or not this was the duty of the police or a news channel that ran a show with high-ratings, arguably for entertainment purposes. Most people will agree that there was something satisfying about watching these men panic and recoil at the reality of being caught.

However, when a man took his life people were suddenly unsure if whether we had taken it too far or not. While there are plenty of people who believe these people don’t even deserve to live, there will always be those who don’t find the news of someone taking their life as a result of a sting any easier to swallow.

While it appeared that the social experiment had come to end, the movement did spread into other mediums. Now channels like ‘Predator Exposure’ and ‘Dark Justice’ regularly post these types of videos with a slightly more aggressive approach than police and even the previously mentioned Hansen.

On one hand, these channels help to catch and expose dangerous people and protect the most vulnerable in society. But there is also the issue of how unprofessionally some of these cases are handled. While entrapment does come into question, some police officials have warned that these types of stings help paedophiles to adapt and adjust in a way that helps them to avoid being caught.

Will these channels and stings help to solve the problem? It certainly didn’t years ago and does not seem to be preventing other cases of the same nature, but they do open up a conversation about the importance of diligence on the internet and properly educating children so that they do not beware the internet, but rather come to be aware of who is out there.

Ian Mangan

Photo by protectyoungeyes