Predator Poachers – Are they here to protect, or to prowl?

Written by Tia McGrew.

Vigilante Groups.

As of recent, there has been a progressive development in the rise of various vigilante groups, especially within our local community – more specifically, targeted towards capturing and exposing paedophiles through an assortment of means. It’s possible that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the majority of the nation having to stay inside and isolate for extended periods of time, there has been a significant surge in predators online attempting to groom and lure children to meet.

Essentially, these groups make an attempt to put a stop to this; but it asks the question, are they claiming this as their own duty, or are they perhaps trespassing on what could otherwise be confidential criminal cases? For the most part, these types of vigilantes aim to expose predators in such a light that the authorities cannot – setting up their own sting operation and showcasing these individuals for who they are online, quite feasibly to a large audience of dedicated fans.

Opposing to this, police claims that this sort of behaviour could most likely destroy people’s lives and trespass on legal property – with, as expected, the hunters retaliating against this, stating that the evidence they manage to gather aids in enforcing prosecutions and uncovering these people for who they truly are. Notably, it appears as though there’s been a rush of action from said associations throughout Kent, with one being named Team Impact bringing the topic of debate back to the forefront of discussion. Throughout the years, the group has been responsible for bringing multiple predators to light; but as a consequence, also causing quite a few to go as far to end their own lives after being caught and subsequently losing their loved ones and reputation.

With the idea beginning to gain more traction in recent years, should the matter be left to the police? Could such an outcome be prevented if the authorities were involved, as opposed to outsiders? We asked those interested for their input on the situation.

Emma Gough, a student, when asked about whether or not vigilante-style groups or the police handle these affairs better, had this to say about the issue:

“Vigilante groups – more often than not, police rely on evidence gathered by vigilante groups in catching online predators. The whole reason these vigilantes have begun these stunts in catching online predators is because there is a gap in police efficiency in catching predators. Though, I don’t agree with the way these groups hunt out predators, not entirely – while it is certainly smart to lure these individuals out with ‘bait’, it calls into question the safety and anonymity of any real-life young victims that might be involved in the situation. While I agree with exposing a predator online, it is unfair to also ‘expose’ any other victim party involved. When matters as serious as predation are involved, who becomes responsible, if not the authorities, if things go wrong, or a situation becomes dangerous? Police could become far more proficient by adapting tactics used by vigilantes already in practice. With that, you get a happy medium between effective execution and within a controlled environment created by law enforcement, which should adhere to safety and victim protection protocol.”

In recent times, content showcasing predator poachers capturing and exhibiting paedophiles has steadily grown in popularity on platforms such as YouTube – containing channels dedicated to producing videos of sting operations. Thousands upon millions of people tune in to eagerly watch this type of content, and actively stay engaged with the circle of hunters. With these clearly showing the identities of those that they catching for a vast amount of people to see, with a dedicated audience subscribed to these groups, could this perhaps pose an even bigger problem?

Emma continued, telling us:

“Unfortunately, with more and more exposure these predators get online, the more aware they become of tactics used against them. With vigilantes often posting their exposures online, predators may see these methods themselves and be able to adapt to or avoid them. I have seen a few of these videos before and watched a few videos made by Life of Luxury. However, since then a lot of people including other creators called into question how ethical such content is, or even if such content was real. I think even with the best intentions, there are many legal and ethical problems with such content dealing with such serious issues. People’s lives and victims’ trauma are being dealt with here, and it’s not right to capitalise that for views.”

We attempted to reach out towards these certain types of content creators, as well as vigilantes in general, for their own personal perspective, but unfortunately gained no response. This also calls attention to whether or not predators we becoming familiarised with the diverse methods poachers use in an attempt to subject these types of individuals to the public eye. By disclosing such methods to these predators, is this possibly in turn causing them to adapt and develop smarter ways to avoid being seized.

Kat, another student, has also added on by saying:

“A lot of children have unrestricted and unmonitored access to parts of the internet that are unsuitable for them. Do I think predators are becoming smarter? Absolutely, people always try to learn from the mistakes of people who are caught to do vile things. I also have heard of a few YouTube channels and series who do these things, such as Chris Hansen. I think that, as for the police, they should learn more about how young people use the internet and ways that it could be unsafe for them.”

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