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View Full Version : 'Gotcha' Shows Aimed at Nabbing Sexual Predators Raise Controversy


Lzen
08-18-2006, 01:52 PM
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
By Daniella Gallego

Those words from the adolescent girl on the second floor are music to the ears of the Internet sex predator standing at her front door. Wary that he has been followed, he anxiously eyes the street behind him before he turns the doorknob and enters her home.

He walks in, only to come face-to-face with an NBC camera crew and "To Catch a Predator" host Chris Hansen, who is holding a hard copy of the explicit conversation the man had with the underage girl he has been planning to molest. On camera, for all the world to see, the man's world falls apart.

Shows like "America's Most Wanted" and "To Catch a Predator" are taking to the airwaves in an attempt to nab sexual predators in a very public way. These shows often involve trying to nab predators — or would-be predators — who communicate online with people they believe to be underage kids.

While some argue such programs are nothing more than tabloid pulp and that the media should leave police work to the police, others say this kind of programming performs a community service. They say it gets the message out that there are sex offenders among us who pose a threat to our kids.

"Media has done a tremendous service to our nation by bringing awareness to the issue. Proactive online investigations are effective in identifying and ultimately catching child sexual predators, when conducted by proper law enforcement authorities," said John Shehan, the Cyber Tipline program manager at the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children.

"Awareness and the identification of these individuals is the first step in the process. …[But] trained law enforcement … should be conducting these types of investigations to ensure the highest possible conviction rate."

FOX's pioneering "America's Most Wanted" has profiled missing persons and fugitives wanted for violent crimes, often those on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list, since 1991. The crimes featured on the show include rape, white-collar crime, murder, armed robbery, gang violence, terrorism, drug trafficking, and child molestation. As of Aug. 3, the show has helped capture 897 fugitives and recover 50 missing persons, according to its Web site.

Talk show host Oprah Winfrey recently launched "Oprah's Child Predator Watch List," a roundup of the FBI's most wanted sex offenders, in a campaign to catch pedophiles.

In Binghamton, N.Y., a local show, "Sex Offender Community Update," shows photos, names, addresses and profiles of fugitive sex offenders in the area.

On Dateline NBC's "To Catch A Predator," host Chris Hansen and police set up a fake home supposed to be that of an underage teen, and install cameras in areas where they believe any sexual contact may take place. Predators then show up at the home, expecting a rendezvous with an underage teenager they've met online.

Suspected pedophiles include "first-timers" and repeat sex offenders. The NBC Web site says the show has helped catch 129 male predators in a total of 14 days between 2004 and 2006; at least 71 have been convicted so far.

The show works with Perverted Justice, a group of volunteers who pose as children ages 10 to 15 in online chat rooms.

"The media is doing a great service of educating the public by making people more aware about things they wouldn’t know," said criminologist John Lombardi, who has over 30 years of specialized training in crime prevention and predatory crimes. "There is no such thing as prediction. You can't anticipate unless someone tells you."

Jonathan Palermo, 28, a graduate business student from Atlanta, said he watches "To Catch A Predator" and is appalled at what he sees.

"I knew it existed, but this show gives you an idea of the magnitude of the problem," said Palermo. He called the shows an effective tool to catch criminals and save potential victims. "The media needs to cover this and capture these people because law enforcement cannot keep up with all the crimes that are happening."

Tabloid Fodder or Real Journalism?

Judy Cornett is president of Safety Advocacy Zone, Inc., an advocacy group she founded after her 11-year-old son was raped in 1992 by a neighbor. The group follows sexual predators, warns neighbors of sex offenders living nearby and provides support to victims and their families. Cornett supports media coverage, law enforcement, and public involvement, and says none can effectively work independently of the other.

"[Pedophilia] is an epidemic. We can't just go door-to-door to raise awareness, or even just print it on a newspaper. It's not enough," Cornett said. "We need to get the media in these guys' faces. If we're not looking, they're going to be looking out for their next victim."

But some critics say these shows contribute more to a sense of hysteria than anything else, since most abuse cases involve children being molested in the home.

"Sexual predators running around, picking up children off the 'Net are not an epidemic … ["To Catch a Predator"] focuses on the equivalent of a sexual straw man, turning the stranger-predator into the 'epidemic,'" said Pierre Tristam, a columnist at the Daytona Beach News-Journal in Florida, who recently wrote a controversial article on the popular "Dateline" series and says the shows epitomize "tabloid pulp."

"[NBC's predator series] should quit borrowing from the shabby techniques of reality TV and return to the ethics and demands of journalism," Tristam said.

"Because people feel vulnerable and angry, shows that appear to be taking steps to solve the problem [of sexual violence against children] are appealing," added Jill Levenson, a professor at Lynn University in Florida who studies social policies dealing with sex offenders. "But [the shows] are not representative of 'typical' child sexual abuse cases," in which children are victimized by someone they know and trust.

She also said the vast media attention has made it appear that the rate of sex crimes is rising. "In actuality," she said, "sex crime rates, like other serious, non-sexual crimes, have declined substantially over the past decade, based on both official crime reports and victim reports."

According to Justice Department statistics, most sexual perpetrators are well known to their victims. Strangers committed only seven percent of sexual assaults against children in 2002. In 2000, child sex-abuse victims identified their abusers as family members in 34 percent of cases, and as acquaintances in 59 percent of cases.

"Journalists tend to oversimplify a problem that exists," Lombardi said. " ... The more that people get to know about what actual crime, the more they can prevent it from happening."

But "Dateline" spokesman Jenny Tartikoff said those involved in "To Catch a Predator" work hand-in-hand with law enforcement to promote public safety.

"Perverted Justice personnel coordinate their activities with law enforcement authorities," she said, adding that the show primarily involves reporting on police activities.

"Reporting on stories like 'Dateline's To Catch a Predator' requires a careful balance between maintaining social responsibility and upholding journalistic standards. At every turn, we have been transparent and disclosed our relationship with Perverted Justice, as well as with local law enforcement, to our audience."

Like "America's Most Wanted," "'Dateline' has received an overwhelming positive reaction" from viewers, parenting groups, government and school officials, Tartikoff said. "We are proud of our innovative and enterprising reporting, and will continue to follow this issue."

But lawyer Angelyn Gates of Chase Criminal Defense Attorneys noted that laws are designed to keep police officers from violating citizens' rights, and that the same rules don't apply to citizens who may be violating other citizens' rights.

"Police officers are trained in theory," Gates said. "The other major problem is when police officers go about investigating crimes, they know how to maintain evidence. Citizens don't."

Gates disagrees with the vigilante justice aspect of citizens risking their own lives, possibly violating others' rights and exposing these cases in the media.

"[Members of Perverted Justice] are not watching out for themselves by trying to pretend they're a child on the Internet," she said. "They're doing it for the thrill, fun, and notoriety they seem to be getting out of it."

Peter Johnson, a media columnist for USA Today who has reported on the show, said these shows are done in "the best tradition of investigative journalism" and often fill a gap that's missing in law enforcement.

"Posing as a child predator online in hopes of snagging these people is exactly what the media should be doing to root out people like this," said Johnson. "The Web is a wonderful place for these guys to seduce children …it's the ideal way to catch these people."

He added: "[These shows] have proven their point … Now it's time for authorities to take over and for [the programs] to concentrate on why law enforcement hasn't taken it over."


Link (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,207356,00.html)

rageeumr
08-18-2006, 02:04 PM
The first time I saw one of these shows (it was actually a local new station, KCTV Maybe???) I thought it was pretty entertaining. Just the look on these perv's faces is priceless. It gets old pretty quick, but you'd have to think that every sicko out there thinks twice before trying to meet some younguns on the interweb.

MOhillbilly
08-18-2006, 02:14 PM
better to get busted on tv than to diddle someones kid and get choped into chum.


or maybe not.....

Pitt Gorilla
08-18-2006, 02:26 PM
I think the shows perform a service, but Hanson's "jokes" get pretty old. I'm guessing he gets caught at some point himself.

I do have a question though: If no child is endangered (people are pretending to be underage), what is the crime? I suppose one could argue intent, but couldn't the perv claim that he, also, was "pretending" that the person was a child while he knew all along that it was someone older? It would be a hard sell, but it might have some legal legs.

Hydrae
08-18-2006, 03:07 PM
I think the shows perform a service, but Hanson's "jokes" get pretty old. I'm guessing he gets caught at some point himself.

I do have a question though: If no child is endangered (people are pretending to be underage), what is the crime? I suppose one could argue intent, but couldn't the perv claim that he, also, was "pretending" that the person was a child while he knew all along that it was someone older? It would be a hard sell, but it might have some legal legs.

That is my concern, the entrapment aspects of the whole thing.

I have watched a couple of these shows (I am a parent after all) and am not sure how I feel about this. Obviously at least some of these guys should not be out in public. Some though really seem to come across as having gotten caught up in the moment of the flirtations on-line and get in over thier heads. Not trying to make excuses, it just seems a little too aggressive in how they lure these guys in.

ImAWalkingCorpse
08-18-2006, 03:09 PM
That dateline special did those shows with a website called perverted-justice.com. If you go and look at the website alot of the guys they bust are NOT 1st time offenders and a brash few even brag about previous encounters they have had with young girls or boys. PJ.com does alot of good and have brought alot of the online crap to the forefront.

StcChief
08-18-2006, 03:19 PM
and the problem with catching child molestors is what???

rageeumr
08-18-2006, 03:39 PM
I'm not sure about the Dateline show, but there was an article in the Pitch about one of the guys that they nabbed on the local show. Apparently he had an inappropriate (but not disgusting) conversation with a girl that told him she was 14. He says he started to feel weird and ended the conversation. Then, his side of the story is that a full grown adult called him on the phone and told him to come over, and he thought that he was meeting a woman, not a girl.

Could be a bunch of BS from a perv, or it could be an overanxious news crew on sweeps week.... who knows.

KChiefs1
08-18-2006, 04:03 PM
A lot of times the bait tells the guy to bring something like beer so the police can show intent.

Braincase
08-18-2006, 04:39 PM
I have 0 problem with catching child predators this way.

Hell, I'd volunteer to help out.

Count Zarth
08-18-2006, 04:42 PM
A/S/L???

Mosbonian
08-18-2006, 05:03 PM
I think the shows perform a service, but Hanson's "jokes" get pretty old. I'm guessing he gets caught at some point himself.

I met Chris Hanson on a flight to NY recently...seemed like a really nice guy. Not at all "full of himself".

And if his shows manage to take just one pervert out of circulation, then it's all worth it.

mmaddog
*******

DJay23
08-18-2006, 05:18 PM
I do have a question though: If no child is endangered (people are pretending to be underage), what is the crime? I suppose one could argue intent, but couldn't the perv claim that he, also, was "pretending" that the person was a child while he knew all along that it was someone older? It would be a hard sell, but it might have some legal legs.
What if the reverse happens? What if the "predator" that the TV people are trying to coerce really is a 15 year old kid? And then some 15 year old shows up at the door expecting to get his 15 year old shwerve on with a 15 year old girl? What then? Wouldn't the TV person then be the perve since they were being inappropriate with a minor? I wonder how that works.

Lzen
08-18-2006, 07:57 PM
If the suspect turns out to be a 15 year old, then there's nothing they will do. But if it turns out to be a 45 year old man with a bald head and a pot belly, there might be a problem. Frankly, I don't see the problem here. Sure, it is sensational journalism. But this kind of sensational journalism is the kind I can accept.

Pitt Gorilla
08-18-2006, 08:21 PM
If the suspect turns out to be a 15 year old, then there's nothing they will do. But if it turns out to be a 45 year old man with a bald head and a pot belly, there might be a problem. Frankly, I don't see the problem here. Sure, it is sensational journalism. But this kind of sensational journalism is the kind I can accept.Right. But THEY would have lured a 15 year old kid to "their" house (promising sex); they should then be thrown in jail (including Hanson).

Iowanian
08-18-2006, 08:42 PM
Noone could EVER entrap me into a situation where I could be going somewhere to eff a little kid for a very simple reason....I'd never do it.

Anyone busted for that crap, no matter the method should be deballed with a rusty corn knife on site...and left to bleed out.

Pitt Gorilla
08-18-2006, 08:48 PM
Noone could EVER entrap me into a situation where I could be going somewhere to eff a little kid for a very simple reason....I'd never do it.

Anyone busted for that crap, no matter the method should be deballed with a rusty corn knife on site...and left to bleed out.Honestly, I agree.

Mosbonian
08-18-2006, 08:52 PM
Right. But THEY would have lured a 15 year old kid to "their" house (promising sex); they should then be thrown in jail (including Hanson).

I don't know this for sure in every case, but i believe that they have someone from the local Sheriff's Department there with them as they chat with the person on the Internet.

I am sure that they have probably already covered for the contingency of a teenager pretending to be an adult.

mmaddog
*******

Rausch
08-18-2006, 08:54 PM
Honestly, I agree.

Yeah, I really couldn't improve on that one either...

Pitt Gorilla
08-18-2006, 09:01 PM
I don't know this for sure in every case, but i believe that they have someone from the local Sheriff's Department there with them as they chat with the person on the Internet.

I am sure that they have probably already covered for the contingency of a teenager pretending to be an adult.

mmaddog
*******Lock up the cops as well. They should catch ALL the pervs, including those doing the luring.
:)

Halfcan
08-18-2006, 09:13 PM
Anyone busted for that crap, no matter the method should be deballed with a rusty corn knife on site...and left to bleed out.

I bet the ratings would go up.