Nabbing “sexual predators” for profit

Nothing epitomizes the depth of salacious pandering that “news” has become like NBC Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator” sweeps’ stunts. Using the skills of volunteers working for a Portland, Oregon group called Perverted Justice, who pose as naïve and innocent teenagers in online chatrooms, the network newsmagazine lures unsuspecting men to a house wired with cameras and proclaims them “internet pedophiles” without due process. And now comes the news that for a May sweeps airing of these entrapments that was shot in Ohio, NBC actually paid Perverted Justice “low six figures” and that its members were deputized to make convictions easier to obtain. The end — nice ratings, not capturing evil men — justifies the means. NBC’s cameras have become extensions of the state, and where do we draw the line?

The premise itself is unjustifiably beyond the scope of our legal system but is rationalized by news execs and viewers, because it deals with protecting our young people from sexual predators. This is viewed, in consulting language, as a highly attractive “position” in marketing a station or network to the (stupid) public. In so doing, however, the practice raises the fear level in our communities and lowers the trust level between human beings everywhere. After all, if every stranger might be a predator, it’s better just to not acknowledge anybody you don’t know. Tell me this is good for our culture. Tell me you want to live your life in an isolation booth.

This idea was birthed in local news, which I wrote long ago is the metaphorical Lizard on America’s Shoulder, relentlessly shrieking in our ear that everything is life-threatening and that we must always be afraid. Hidden in this message is the notion that we can somehow “manage” our way to success and happiness if we’re better informed, an idea that many learn too late is only a myth.

Sexual predators are the lepers of the 21st century, an indefensible group of (mostly white) men who sadly live in a fantasy world in which they actually believe young girls want to have sex with them. This is the sick fantasy that compels them to get in the car and drive to meet a potential partner that they’ve found on the internet. In their minds, it isn’t rape or even predatory behavior, and we’re repelled by this line of thinking.

But this problem is much bigger than the act of driving to a teenager’s home. We don’t talk about how this fantasy is formed in the minds of some men, nor do we talk about how it is furthered by our increasingly sex-based culture. We leave that to self-serving special interest groups who make money yelling at the symptoms instead of attacking the bigger matters of loneliness, powerlessness, rejection and fear. We don’t dare admit that what we call “normal” is also an illusion, and worse, that it only exists among the haves.

Nor do we wish to examine the issue of fatherlessness — real, forced or imagined — in our culture and the impact this devastating reality has on young girls who aren’t sufficiently knowledgeable as they learn to seek attention from the opposite sex.

If you were to ask any Hollywood costume designer to present the look of a streetwalker for a film, they could find all of the clothes they needed on the bodies of young girls in any mall in the U.S. And what is the role of streetwalker apparel if not for advertising? Yet the vast majority of these girls would be astonished at the suggestion they were advertising, and that’s not their fault. Our culture flaunts the “come hither” look for young women, and this, like it or not, feeds the fantasy of the sexual predator.

We hear a lot about sexual predators in the news — and a lot from Law and Order, SVU — but we hear FROM very few. Let’s do a reality show from inside a Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting instead of lectures from those who study it from arm’s length. Let’s get all the ugly insight, straight from the horse’s mouth, and in an environment more conducive to honesty than being probed by a self-serving reporter with another “gotcha” notch on his gun belt.

It’s not likely to happen, though, because such a show would be a turn-off, not a titillating turn-on. However, if we really want to protect young women from this scourge, we’re going to have to peer into this darkness for causes instead of throwing everything we have at symptoms.

This whole matter is complex and messy, and it’s not made one little bit better by NBC’s entrapment of these men for the sake of ratings. I think it’s actually made worse, because it drives the behavior further into the shadows and far from the sunlight of the healing it so desperately needs.

Shame on you, NBC.


  1. I don’t care if a child is wearing a g‑string and a peek-a-boo bra and grew up fatherless with a licentious mother, they’re not asking for it. The way a child dresses has nothing to do with their attractiveness to a predator. I was molested as a child in a time when sexual promiscuity was not the norm. Pedophilia existed then as it exists now, but now it’s talked about, then it wasn’t. Pedophilia is, at best, a mental disorder, but the disorder is NOT sex addiction. I would put it on a par with serial killing. It’s a compulsion, it’s about power and boys are as often victims of predators as girls. It is highly unlikely that these types of predators can be rehabilitated. I believe the statistics are that 1 in 4 children are molested. Those are the reported cases. It’s mind boggling to contemplate the others, like myself, who have never reported what happened to them. You can bet that persons who molest children were themselves victims of the same horrible crime, although not every victim perpetuates the crime. It’s a vicious circle.
    Dateline might garner great ratings from doing these shows, but I applaud them in their efforts to get the word out there. The more people know the better protected our children are.

  2. Jenny, I’ve also survived long-term sexual abuse, so I understand well your feelings of rage. What I don’t understand is how NBC making buckets of money titillating and scaring viewers helps prevent the next Holly or Jenny from being victimized. They could do twenty-four hours a day — their own channel — of this stuff, and it wouldn’t save one child. It would make a lot of money for corporate America, and that’s it. I certainly agree with you that nothing a child wears is justification or gives excuse for molesting them. I do, however, have to take issue with your statement that what a child wears doesn’t affect their attractiveness to a predator. Clothing is a language. What I wear to work is quite different from what I wear to sleep in, to church, to karate school, to ride my bike. In the case of men who have sexual desires toward children that they haven’t acted on yet, having a 12 year old’s ass crack hanging out when she’s wearing a miniskirt and halter top that has a cherry on the front and says “Do you like my cherry?” doesn’t help matters any. (I saw a child dressed this way two days ago at the mall.) Every male in the food court turned and stared. If one of them is one of these sick, pathetic losers who sits at home and tries to convince himself that little girls want to f*ck him, do you REALLY believe that her clothing doesn’t send a message that could help convince him she just might? Of course it does. Is it her fault? No. It’s the fault of her parents, mostly her father. I don’t think you can have it both ways — argue on the one hand that this is such a dangerous world that profit-making stunts like NBC’s are justified, but on the other hand, claim that streetwalker attire on little girls doesn’t affect the problem. It’s either a dangerous world with a predator behind every tree, or it isn’t. If it is, dressing little girls like something other than streetwalkers is as sensible a precaution as self-defense classes, gun ownership, and owning a big, mean guard dog are precautions for adult women. I lock my door. If I didn’t, it wouldn’t mean I was asking to be robbed, but I lock it anyway. Know what I mean?

  3. Both Jenny and Holly were molested as children. WebMD defines pedophilia as “A disorder in which a person has fantasies, urges or behaviors that involve sexual activity with a pre-pubescent child or children (generally age 13 years or younger).”

    Ask yourself, then, why NBC chose the persona of a 14-year old girl as the “lure” to attract these men?

    Pedophiles? Without due process?

  4. This artical makes a good point, but on the other hand Chris Hanson (sp?) always says “You have seen our shows, you knew this could be a set up. Why did you show up?” I believe that is a wonderful question.
    The purpose of To Catch a Predator is to instil fear in the hearts of those sexual predators, predators are also asked questions about their fantasies and why they desire young children.
    I believe that NBC Nightline does us a great service by taking sexual predators off of the street, attempting to keep them in check. If said sexual predator does not seek help on their own, then perhapse they will after spending time in prsion.
    I am in the process of obtaining my BA in psychology, I believe everyone needs help with something or other — none of us are normal, we simply have a *mainstream* idea of how people are supposed to think and act. But we can not wait for sexual predators to wake up and ask for help after molesting as many children as they please. I believe the whole of the legel system needs a work over, sending everyone to jail over everything does not solve the problem. Sexual predators have one more mentel illness lost in the system of right and wrong, and how to make them stop.
    NBC and Pervertid Justice are doing the best they can within a flawed system, give them points. When we are finally able to finance and change the legel systen, we will see real results.

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