Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Meeting People Online II - To Catch a Predator

I've wanted to write about the american television show Dateline: To Catch a Predator since the first time I watched it. Frankly my thoughts never seemed to come in order as I think of this show. It has existed for some time now but I've only been aware of it in the past months.

The premise of the show is as follows. The people of Dateline team up with a group called 'Perverted-Justice'. They have volunteers from Perverted Justice posing as a 12,13, or 16 year old [age varies] and meeting adult men [as in 18 and up]. The volunteers pose as either boys or girls. They enter chat rooms typically and eventually meet with older men who are very interested in them. The chatting soon becomes very sexually explicit. If you're a woman and have ever met people in chat rooms you know how things can get and what type of conversations most of those people lead. If you're a man you're either one of those people or have no idea what I'm talking about...

After chatting for a while and sometimes even exchanging pictures, the fake kid and the potential predator arrange a meeting a the kid's house. The fake kid tells the potential predator that he/she'll be home alone, so it's a golden opportunity for them to meet. Then they would chat about what he'll do when he gets there. - It does not always go on like this but I just wanted you to have an idea, to know what they chat about visit Dateline's web site.-

Those men are so clueless. But the unreal part of all this is the "child. Never any disgust nor anger no matter what the guy throws at her. That "child" is so willing and going along with absolutely all the men are saying, and telling them that she's home alone is just unreal. A child who does such a thing needs serious help. I really have a hard time imagining any teen ager doing such a thing unless he/she has major issues or really huge problems at home. I've met quite a few young chatters online and they don't disclose their personal information to the new comers just like that. When you think of it, it's really twisted. You can see some videos and transcripts of the show their website.
I couldn't help but feel uneasy watching the show, it was worse after I visited their website. At least one person has died because of that show, a person who committed suicide while police came to arrest him after a series of those chat sessions.

What problem do I have with this show?
You see, I've met so many people online I wont say I've seen it all, hopefully I've not but I have seen a lot and I know what some people are capable of throwing at you. But I've also seen something that those people at Perverted-Justice will probably never see. I've seen men going from the lowest low of online sexual solicitation to actually asking me to forgive them. There is a least one person who became my friend after such an episode but it only happen for two reasons:
1) I never responded positively to any of his solicitations
2) I got seriously mad at him

I actively discouraged him in pursuing such a relationship with me and he knew he would be off my list if he continued.

I believe everyone has at least one low point in his life, hey I have quite a few myself but I also believe that you should help people rise but not fall.

I also believe that many people lead a fantasy life when they are online, it's the virtual world and anything is possible but it stays in the virtual world and they know it's not possible in the real world until someone comes along and tell them that it is and that's exactly what the Perverted-Justice people teamed up with Dateline are telling those men, "No, it doesn't have to stay in the virtual world anymore, now you have a chance to live this fantasy for real."

Even though it's all filmed in the US, I've seen many foreigners show up to meet the home-alone kid they met online, some were asian. When I watched them and listened to what they had to say, they reminded me of some of the people I've met online myself, I couldn't help but think that this was the kind of thing that could happen to them and I couldn't help but feel sorry for those men -not for all of them though-.

Moreover, I've not seen Dateline or Perverted-Justice address the matter of how to protect the children from predators. I'm not denying that there are predators on the internet preying over children but if a child could have the exact same behavior as the Perverted Justice volunteer in chat rooms I believe those children need help and they need it urgently because they will certainly be victims of predators. I don't know if they had done this in previous episodes but I didn't see them say "parents this is how you can protect your children from online predators now that you know that they do exist and that you've seen some of their faces".

Finally, how about the "predators" themselves. Is anything being done to help them, surely they do need help because they will find themselves on the internet again and potentially will meet other children online, what is done to take the predator out of those men? Does Dateline even believe that is necessary?

What is Dateline trying to achieve with "To Catch a Predator"?
Are they trying to warn parents? Warn children? Scare predators? Humiliate a group of men on television ? Or just make more money? Are they helping the community or are they just helping themselves?

One thing is for sure, the show was a success with the audience, so much that it has been copied. America's Most Wanted has teamed up with Miss America herself to make a show that's similar to Dateline's "To Catch a Predator". I've not watched it, therefore I can't say in which way the two shows differ but from what I've seen in the previews and commentaries from the people behind it, I'm not expecting any better.

For parents reading this, do monitor your children's online activities, protect them and help them protect themselves.

Notes: I've gone through Dateline's website again and they do have links for parents and children and for potential predators.

A few links :
Blogcritics Magazine - Thoughts on Dateline's "To Catch a Predator"
The New Republic - Behind "Dateline"'s icky hidden camera series
Internet Safety News - Amy's Story

Related Posts:
Meeting People Online - Part I
Meeting people Offline - part I
Meeting people Offline - part II
Meeting People Offline - part III

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