This is a topic that has really flourished with frequent activity in the last few years with a growing number of people and groups getting involved and exposing what worryingly seems to be an endless chain of guilty individuals.
I, like many others, tend to watch these people in action thanks mostly to videos shared on social media such as Youtube and live on Facebook. It is not some weird mundane past time, but more about enjoying a lively documentary / reality series similar to that you’d find on television where typically a person or group will film themselves approaching and apprehending an individual who has turned up to meet a child, under the age of 16 always, for the purpose of sex or some kind of other illegal interaction.
I first bumped in to these type of videos via the Chris Hansen and Dateline NBC ‘To Catch a Predator‘ series which were a popular and well coordinated collection of episodes that set up trapping paedophiles in hidden camera filled rented properties across America. In most occasions the suspect would have been led on to driving for many hours to reach a house to meet a child following grooming a decoy acting as an under 16 years old online via chat rooms on the internet.
Here is an example of the ‘To Catch a Predator’ series on Youtube:
The To Catch a Predator series ran from 2004 to 2007 and then made a very recent revival. All episodes were led by Chris Hansen who would approach each house visitor with the usual ‘why don’t you take a seat and tell me what you are doing here‘ phrase. In most cases the person in question would try and get out of the sticky situation yet fail to dig themselves out of the hole due to Chris Hansen holding the full chat log in his hands – When the suspect leaves the house there would be a team of police to carry out an arrest.
The popularity of this show stretches far beyond just me watching them with people now reviewing these old episodes and sharing their in-depth thoughts online. You will also find follow up videos made by varied people highlighting those who were caught out by To Catch a Predator in a kind of where are they now short documentaries.
One such person who concentrated on past To Catch a Predator episodes who I was drawn to via Youtube is Andrew Birkett who will provide usually 30 minute episodes of reviewing previous people who had been caught. Now what I found important and the reason for watching nearly all the videos Andrew shared was that it dealt with not only reviewing the episode in question, he would also review the chat logs in full and highlight to the viewer just what tactics are used by the ‘predator’. What Andrew’s dedication to delving into videos do well is to help us to understand the mind of varied paedophiles and the extremes they go to in order to meet with and have sex with underage children – All different types of people are reviewed from the show from young to old, professionals such as doctors to those not working and down on their luck.
Here is one of Andrew’s videos where he is reviewing the chat log between a decoy and a predator who featured on one of the episodes:
I took the time to ask Andrew a quick question regarding why he does the videos he releases on Youtube:
How important is it that your viewers get to understand the ‘person’ behind each of the paedophiles that are caught and that you highlight by way of your review videos – Is it simply an entertainment factor or is it in fact an important subject to cover and uncover as such?
“I believe that in depth studies of these people, if done with integrity is vital. As a society we have to understand what drives these people to do what they do. Anyone who has seen To Catch a Predator will know that one of the most shocking aspects of its findings is the broad range of people from all social, ethnic and economic backgrounds that were caught in these sting operations and found guilty.
It’s no longer the stereotypical scruffy, seedy single middle aged man who drives a car near to schools who are a danger to children. It is prominent members of society like doctors, teachers and even rabbi’s. The internet now gives a platform for virtually anyone, to pray on vulnerable children. And due to the economic situations in a lot of countries, there are more vulnerable children than ever.
We need to understand the very deeper reason why these people prey on children. Is it an illness? Is it a matter of them enjoying controlling the weak? Do these people need treatment as some centres in the US offer?
Looking at the psychology and backgrounds of these people can go a long way to answering those questions and if we do, societies and individual parents would be in a much better position to keep children safe.”
Things have now evolved in the world of online paedophile hunters:
From watching those shows on Youtube, similar videos appeared on my what to view list on the right side column, thus I bumped into Stinson Hunter’s videos.
Here is an example of Stinson Hunter in action.
Now Stinson has a totally different approach to catching paedophiles with a very much so do it yourself style of using a mobile phone video camera to approach and question those he had tempted out to meet with him expecting him to be an under 16 year old and usually hoping to having some kind of sexual relationship.
Now when I first saw this guy in action it was very much a feeling of what on earth is he doing and what is he looking to achieve as there were no professional cameras set up, security around him nor police officers in the waiting. Though, I will say after watching a few episodes and understanding his motives and the style of how he went about luring and catching paedophiles I thought very differently and then really wanted to extend a virtual hand out to him to shake and both congratulate him for his concept and for helping to make the internet safer for children.
What I liked about Stinson Hunter was his very respectful yet direct approach to each of his stings. He delivered facts calmly, he questioned professionally and at no time put the person he confronted under any pressure nor showed any real aggression. It was a kind of you’ve been caught out, have you anything to say in your defence and I am sorry, but we will be presenting this case to the police to let them sort things out… Job done for Stinson Hunter, a satisfying conclusion for the viewer and on to the next one. He has over half a million people who have liked his Facebook page…
Once you have bumped into Stinson Hunter you are then open to many more paedophile hunters that share their encounters online with USA, Canada and UK being the most popular countries they are happening in so it seems via Youtube. There are many old hats at the game and many new ones also, the professionally done encounters to those done with no respect for the topic in question as for some it is only about getting viewers and subscribers. I also am seeing younger and younger hunters sharing videos, at times it would appear mere teenagers approaching adults they have stung and exposing them – Yes, good in some ways, but this can open up a can of worms and expose these youngsters to harm both mentally and psychically especially if they are doing the job of the decoy too.
Now from Stinson Hunter we step things up a notch or two when I landed upon a video starring Shane Brannigan. Yes, I say starring as these paedophile hunters need to be classed as entertainers and this I mostly mean that they are offering an educational video channel of important content (which is vital for all people to take note of in order to protect children online) and also has an entertaining value as the videos have a start point, a middle engagement and a satisfying conclusion (if their phone batteries do not run out)! Agree with them or not, paedophile hunters are highlighting to us all the size of this problem and the ways adults are targeting children online for sex. Many people are holding the likes of Stinson Hunter and Shane Brannigan as heroes and fine folk of the community for exposing sex predators and I can certainly see why.
Shane takes thing further and since by this time I was used to and understood the reasoning why vigilante paedophile hunters were sharing videos online, I thought this guy had really nailed things in both his approach to those he caught and his summarising of the current issue of adults grooming children online and the slow acting and less than enthusiastic support he at times gets from the police force. Compared to Stinson Hunter, Shane calls the police out to each sting he attends so that, eventually, they turn up and get round to making an arrest – Stinson Hunter only ever seemed to expose on video groomers and gave the details to police later.
I am sure many parents will agree with Shane’s style of dealing with the people he has stung by getting in to their faces and scaring them before the police arrive to carry out the formalities.
Lots of readers will be asking why the likes of Shane Brannigan does this and why not leave it to the police to deal with – Well, these guilty people surely need to be taught a lesson and at the very least scared out of their lives for having tried to groom and meet a child and importantly, this is the main point here, be equally scared that should they ever think of doing such a thing again that it may very well be another Shane Brannigan decoy they are speaking to and meeting. Where as it might not be a cure for paedophilia as a whole, it will help to deter some from using the internet to lure children just that bit less which must be a good thing? This is an example of how Shane meets with a child groomer who has arranged a meet up:
Shane is hard in the face of those he catches, he does not let them go, he is loud, he scares people and he has even made some wet their pants with fear – An effective approach to take to these kind of people and then it is over to the police to prosecute etc?
Now there are points that could be seen as wrong with some paedophile hunters online:
Exposing the accused person alone is fine, but sometimes some hunters go to the individuals place of work or their home and this can the be dangerous to innocent people. What we must take on board is that on many occasions a paedophile acts alone targeting children even if they are a loving husband / wife or if they live at home with their parents – They do not all have to live a secluded life living alone. By visiting the houses and work places of these people are you then exposing their employers, work colleagues, neighbours, families and friends? Yes, many times the hunters will say to the viewers please do not come here and have a go at the family, it has nothing to do with them, but on occasions, which is not an uncommon thing to do, families, friends and work colleagues will attempt to protect the person they know whilst the sting is happening. Many parents natural instinct is to protect their child even if they have just been accused of being a paedophile, it does not mean they are one themselves or agree with it, but they will react and become defensive on behalf of their child of course when put on the spot?
Now I do understand that if the said person had arranged to meet up with a real child and had their wicked way as such then that child would be damaged for life and their friends and family also effected – This is why many say and I agree that what paedophiles do effects many people and not just the child in question that has been targeted. I do agree that a paedophile needs to be highlighted to the community and neighbours have the right to know if one is living next to them, but exposing them to a live audience and / or then uploading to Youtube can entice audiences to gather then wanting to deliver their own punishment ie http://metro.co.uk/2017/07/26/paedo-hunter-sting-goes-wrong-when-suspect-is-attacked-as-mob-cheer-6808367/
In my mind, the person who commits the crime of paedophilia knows full well the repercussions they can receive if caught out, so they deserve these repercussions when they arrive, be it abuse, revenge, divorce, financial ruin and more, we just need to protect those innocent people connected to them with some common sense from everyone when these individuals are highlighted and exposed online. Every case is individual and at times there may be side issues such as mental issues which should be taken in to account (though not used as an excuse of course), or maybe the hunter groups do this research prior?
So, what other kind of peadophile vigilantes are out there?
We have Internet Interceptors with a lady named / AKA as Julie who does similar to Shane in that she will either set up meetings or go and visit groomers who she has stung via her decoys. Looking at comments online towards Julie, and many of the other hunters, people will challenge her on how loud and aggressive she is, but her hard approach and unsympathetic attitude appears to be the right balance to have when dealing with the suspects she catches across the country. At times I think she can be a bit open to being attacked as she will do stings alone, you watch her videos somewhat concerned that this lady could be attacked any minute here in her situation even if thousands are watching her and supporting her live online. It could be said that at times, Julie and her team can take things a bit too far and open themselves up to receiving negative comments such as when entering peoples property and refusing to leave – Yes, a citizen’s arrest is allowed and this is what they are performing when holding suspects that they have hard evidence on and obviously doing so for a very good cause, but at times could they land themselves in trouble and be open to counter claims against them from the accused? Saying all this, Julie is certainly scaring more and more online groomers away from the internet and has many successful convictions against people she has caught already thanks to her hard work.
I leave you to decide from watching this example here if Julie and Public Justice Phil in this video are a bit over the top or not – Either way, they have stopped another child groomer (this one a repeat offender who hasn’t learnt his lesson first time round):
Another good thing with most of the paedophile hunters is that many work jointly, sometimes turning up to stings altogether or calling each other during live stings to share details and stating if the said individual they have been talking too or not. These people all have a common goal and that is to expose those who are grooming children online thus making it safer for children and not at all in it for personal gain be it financially or stardom.
I also tend to watch updates from another group that are effective in their approach and they are the Guardians of the North who have captured already many child groomers. Similar approach to the others in where and how they catch groomers with a more toned down yet just as effective approach to exposing and dealing with each sting operation.
Dark Justice also do a good job and have captured many child groomers, here is an example of how they tackle those who they have caught out with their decoys:
If we take a look over to Canada then Justin Payne is a regular creep capture entrapping online child groomers. His style I like in the way he exposes and deals with each of the characters he stings and with 125,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel there are many others liking it too! Here is an example of a sting by Justin:
And lastly back over to the USA and the Fraser Valley Creep Catchers take a slightly different approach. Mainly meetings are set up with child groomers in public locations such as shopping centres and fast food restaurants and the guilty suspect is then confronted and shamed in public. They usually end by telling the person to leave and do not do this again otherwise it will be us you meet and shouting out ‘You’re done bud‘!
What about the police?
I have not enough knowledge on the subject of paedophilia and the laws surrounding it neither am I involved with the police to know how they prefer to tackle this crime, but it does appear that there is not always the greatest support for what the average hunting group is doing. At times it can take the police up to an hour to show to make an arrest and when they do they appear sometimes quite cold towards the person / group who have helped them to capture a new predator. Maybe there should now be a direct channel of communication with a department in the police force / home office for a selection of the vigilante paedophile hunters so they can find out before if a suspect they are about to approach and film is known to the police already?
I have read and heard many police officials state that the work of vigilantes paedophile hunters is causing them issues and delaying and hindering their investigations. Though from outside the police world you would think opposite in that the vigilantes are helping them to expose more criminals?
Things though will change I am sure as the audiences of the vigilantes grow, despite social media channels doing their best to hide them and censor what they share. The trend is not stopping so the police (which with cutbacks in police staffing will be difficult) or government will have to spend some time on how to control or ideally how to work more closely with vigilante paedophile hunters.
So, what if you suspect child grooming is happening?
Many of the vigilante paedophile hunter groups have websites, social media accounts and contact forms so you can always contact them if you would like to offer support or simply give them feedback and encouragement. Their websites will also include links to official websites helping children and parents concerned about online child grooming.
If you are a child and concerned that someone is grooming you online then here are some useful pages to read and share your concerns with:
Even if you are too concerned you will upset your parents, which will never be the case, do let someone know and you will find out that you are not alone!
Parents please be aware that children have easy access to the outside world at home and at times are far too innocent to even realise someone is grooming them. Here is an interesting website to visit to learn up on how to keep your children safe and how to spot someone grooming them:
I wanted to write this piece as it relates to safety on social media. Online child grooming I’ve seen when a friends child was contacted by a person who had initially innocently chatted via some children’s app online and progressed slowly though surely to Whatsapp without the child really understanding what was happening so I want to make sure this does not happen again to anyone I know and want to see this situation tackled as best as it can be on a national level at least. I hope this piece highlights to children and adults the dangers of using social media / chat rooms and the work some people are doing to tackle this.
And lastly, I wish to thank all the people and groups I have mention above and many more that I have not for their time and effort in helping to keep our children safe online and this goes out to the police force too where I am sure there are similar targets of eradicating child grooming online.