July 18, 2007

Online Predators

I've had the opportunity to watch the NBC Dateline series "To Catch a Predator", and I must say I am continuously taken aback by these men who put themselves in such a disgusting position.

In case you haven't seen it, here's how it works: Dateline has volunteers pose as 12- or 13-year-olds and log in to chat rooms where they wait to be hit on by adults looking for sex. The decoys tell the adults they are home alone and sometimes they say they are interested in sex, a few pretend they are eager to meet.

The volunteers, who come from Perverted-Justice, a controversial citizen's organization that aggressively seeks to ferret out online predators, engage in often stomach turning, sexually charged chats with the adults who contact them. Much of the chat room dialogue is too "graphic and disgusting" for Dateline to share. Some men, Dateline reports, send illicit photos of themselves to the decoys.

In each installment, dozens of men eventually show up at the address provided by the decoys, presumably for a sexual encounter. They enter the house and are soon confronted by Dateline correspondent Chris Hansen. They are arrested soon afterward.

If you think that this is a big city problem, you are wrong. When Dateline aired "To Catch a Predator IV", the sting was set up in Greenville, Ohio. Even in small-town America vulnerable young teens are not far from danger. These predators were willing to drive for hours, sometimes even crossing state lines, to have sex with a thirteen-year-old girl.

Many parents of computer literate teenagers are not aware of this problem. I have met many parents who treat their computer illiteracy as something to be proud of: "Oh, Jenny is on that computer all the time. Me, I don't know how to turn the thing on."

Guess what? Jenny is making a date with a guy whose online photo looks like Brad Pitt, but who, in reality, looks like Larry The Cable Guy. Whether you mask your computer illiteracy as an excuse, saying that you are too old to learn how to use a computer or that you don't want to be a slave to technology, you're wrong.

Dateline has an "Online Safety Kit" that every parent should review. It can be found at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15162866/.

Although many predators will travel great distances to solicit their victims, Niagara County does have a Sex Offender website at which you may enter an address and it will tell you all registered sex offenders living within one mile. It can be found at http://www.watchsystems.com/ny/niagara/.


Scott Leffler said...

I feel guilty for admitting this, but I love that show. I laugh every time one of those morons gets their just deserts. I prefer when they try to run ...

Mr. Pink said...

I watched it last night and I just shake my head at every dirtbag. Two thoughts:

1) Is there anything better then that second when the dirtbag realizes he isn't going to have sex and his life is essentially runied. That light bulb over their head that suddely says, "I'm royally screwed" is priceless.

2) You wonder how much of an impact the Internet has on taking people who clearly have terrible thoughts and give them a way to act on them. I wonder how many of these guys would have gotten into trouble two decades ago...maybe all of them and maybe in worse ways...but something tells me this whole thing is one of the downsides of the global community.

William Wallace said...

Mr. Pink: great point, I'd have to agree that the internet gives us such easy access to so much information (which is largely a good thing), however, the internet also gives the wrong people access to too much information. Not only perverts, but also kids to things like pornography, even if by accident. Not to mention the terrorists accessing information about buildings and security information via programs like google earth.

I have heard about similar sting operations to jail pervs throughout the nation and hearing of every single one makes me sick. Partially because it's so sad that there are people out there like that and even more sad because this happens many times when an actual kid is being tricked into these sorts of things.

Larry S said...

I like to play games on Yahoo Games, one time recently someone started IMing me. It turned out to be a pre-teen. I totally felt as if someone was "fishing", like the people from Perverted Justice do. I told the kid to beat it and didn't get another IM.