'[Stinson] shows a flicker of compassion, but justifies his actions by diverting back to his reasons for doing what he did. A few moments later he carries on with discussions about his personal notoriety and fame. The heartbreak in the woman's voice is shattering.'
'The internet is littered with stories of lives being utterly destroyed by these gangs who, with alarming frequency, target and identify completely innocent members of the public.'
Every year, thousands of sexual offenders are caught by members of the public who create vigilante mobs online and “sting” those who have been engaging in sexual discussion with minors, often with the intentions of meeting to carry out their possible intentions. No-one would ever deny that these groups serve a purpose and that their work has saved countless children from further suffering at the hands of these individuals, but I would appeal to the reader to consider the disturbing treatment that the innocent, unseen victims face.
I will reiterate that until faced with this situation, I don’t care who you are, you have no realistic idea about how you would deal with it. Over the years, I have been involved in numerous heated discussions in these vigilante groups for defending those who get caught up in these horrific intrusions into their lives. I have lost count of the number of times that I have personally been accused of being a “nonce sympathiser”, or worse.
Nextfix recently reran a documentary which was originally broadcast in 2014, The Paedophile Hunter. It follows the story of convicted arsonist “Stinson Hunter” creating opportunities to speak with men exhibiting paedophilic tendencies and displaying desires to speak with, share phonographic material and even meet up with children as young as aged 11. Stinson and his team entice these people, often after many weeks or months having elapsed and sharing extremely graphic and disturbing conversations, into a “honey trap”. They film the confrontation and post an edited version onto various social media platforms.
Absolutely no consideration is given to the families of those targetted; at one point during the film a young woman is seen discussing the death of her child's father, days after he was exposed. Stinson is then brought into a conversation about whether he feels bad about the death. He shows a flicker of compassion, but justifies his actions by diverting back to his reasons for doing what he did. A few moments later he carries on with discussions about his personal notoriety and fame. The heartbreak in the woman's voice is shattering.
Besides the very real devastation that this online vilification and humiliation of innocents when publicly posting these strings wreaks, they are also largely responsible for the negative presumptions made by jury members way before they are ever called to court and be made responsible for deciding guilt or innocence. The internet is littered with stories of lives being utterly destroyed by these gangs who, with alarming frequency, target and identify completely innocent members of the public.
These groups are met with strong opposition from some senior officers in the Police whose roles are to detect and prosecute those under suspicion for these offences. Simon Bailey, who leads the country's response to child sexual abuse (CSA), emphatically ruled out working with vigilante groups in 2019, and said that they take "completely unnecessary risks" which can slow down police investigators. Former police chief Jim Gamble told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in early 2018 that masquerading as a child online should become a criminal offence to deter vigilante stings.
My opinion is that society sadly needs groups of this calibre because, in much the same way as any other criminality, the victims of these crimes are constantly being let down by woefully inadequate policing. The ambition to needle out the true people with bad intentions is, however, overshadowed by the founders of these groups' desire to out-do one another at any opportunity.
Every member of our community is delighted when they are made aware that another person has been jailed for attempting to contact a child, and quite rightly so! Information about the damage caused to actual police investigations is very few and far between, largely due to the fact that the nature of the investigations means that privacy is of paramount importance. A few years ago, I spoke with a senior officer involved in child protection, who informed me that in almost every case involving a sting the damage created in regards to wider police investigations there was a knock on effect.
Stinson and his team entice those he is targetting, often after many weeks or months having elapsed and sharing extremely graphic and disturbing conversations, into the aforementioned honey trap. They film the confrontation and post an edited version on social media. The home addresses of those being filmed are often exposed and absolutely zero consideration is given to any other residents at the property.
These are the people who will have to face the world with everyone judging them, having done nothing wrong. These are the people who are crippled by the guilt and shame of having such despicable criminality going on under their noses. These are the people who will find friends and family turn their backs on them due to the behaviour of another. These are the people who, on occasions, will be forced to deal with the death of a loved one, the direct result of such a public outing of their behaviour.
By Emma Wells