By Chris Zoukis . . . Since the initial airing of “To Catch a Predator” in 2004 on Dateline NBC, vigilante-style advocacy groups targeting child sex offenders have been popping up in major urban populations across North America.
Known as Anti-pedophile Activism, these groups not only hold demonstrations, but they also use social media to spread the word about their activities, often showing the faces of accused predators in a high intensity, often dramatic fashion.
Anti-pedophile Activism groups undeniably represent a large and passionate sector of society which is understandably outraged not only by issues such as pedophilia, child trafficking, and child abuse, but also perceive that there is a lack of appropriate punishment in cases where those accused have been found guilty. But are these vigilante-style actions really effective?
While law enforcement continues to battle child predators, they have been opposed to working with these vigilante groups, and even organizations that monitor sex crimes on the Internet say these types of groups can do more harm than good.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children‘s (NCMEC) Exploited Child Unit stated to the news site boston.com in 2003 that they do not condone investigations by citizens as those actions not only are ineffective in deterring predators but also can push them to hide evidence, move to other locations, and become otherwise more effective at hiding their identities.
The Internet safety organization CyberAngels, an offshoot of the Guardian Angels, share the same concerns. As CyberAngels’ representative Katya Gifford told Boston News, ”You cannot just break into your neighbors’ house because you suspect that they use drugs and collect evidence and hand it over to the police.”
And what happens when people are falsely targeted, having their reputation immediately ruined with cascading consequences for not only themselves but for their family and loved ones?
Sex offender rights are an important topic for consideration because the impact of an accusation goes deeper than the deed that may not have even happened.
Recently in Canada, an off-duty RCMP officer was ambushed and wrongly accused of being a pervert when leaving a gas station by the vigilante group Creep Catchers. In the UK, a father was mistaken for a similar looking offender and stabbed to death by a gang of vigilantes.
Unfortunately for those wrongly accused, there is currently little legal recourse. As Jonathan Zittrain, assistant professor of law at Harvard Law School and a director of its Berkman Center for Internet and Society, told Boston News, “Entrapment only really has meaning in the context of a criminal charge brought against somebody. Entrapment laws are meant to check the excesses of government power. But if groups exposing people are doing so on their own and not as an arm of any governmental agency, entrapment issues don’t tend to apply.”
While Anti-pedophile Activism groups may call themselves concerned citizens and may have the best interests of innocent children at heart, they’re often misinformed about the laws and legal ramifications of their actions. This can have dire consequences for police and other informed organizations as they track and attempt to legally pursue legitimate predators – never mind the consequences for those falsely accused..
Prevention is key. Educating children about Internet safety and personal boundaries are important topics of conversation for parents to have with their children to prevent them from falling prey to sexual predators in the first place.
Chris Zoukis is a 29 year old prisoner advocate and award winning fiction and non-fiction writer. He is also a Prison Legal News contributing writer, the founder of PrisonEducation.com and Prisonlawblog.com and a former editor of the Prison Behind Bars Newsletter.