I’d like your opinions on something. You know that series of investigative stings on Dateline called To Catch a Predator? If you’re unfamiliar with it because you’re not from the US, it’s about catching sexual predators over the internet who try to seduce under-aged kids. I’d like to post up links to those videos on YouTube but I thought it might be best if I don’t; they’re graphic and I don’t want kids to see them, but if you’d like to view them, Google search for “To Catch a Predator.” The first link will take you to the NBC website with video coverage of it; the third link will take you to some Youtube clips.
Their m.o. is basically this: through internet chatrooms, they find adult men who try to meet underaged teens to have sex with them. They pose as those underaged kids, rent a house, then invite those men to visit them so they can do their thing. They come into the house, Chris Hansen, a journalist from Dateline NBC, comes out to confront them. They leave, and are apprehended by the police.
I’m somewhat indifferent as to whether or not this is wrong, but I’m leaning toward believing that what NBC is doing is wrong in the sense that they sort of take a quasi-police role but do not live up to the policing legal responsibilities of fair justice. Though the Dateline team is by no means an actual, official, legal dispenser of justice, it does assume that role in attempting to dispense justice and exposing these cases. It calls itself a news magazine programme, but in reality it doesn’t report the news – it makes the news. In doing that, in its self-appointed role as a dispenser of justice, it makes the punishments against those crimes unequal.
But then again, we could argue that having a show like that on TV would help compel potential predators to stop it because now they have the possibility of extra punishment in the form of humiliation. I don’t know if this holds water though: first of all, the threat of being humiliated on TV isn’t a strong threat – they only make a few of these programmes so one might think that the chances of being caught is very remote; secondly, many of the people who were caught in those investigations already knew of Dateline’s sting operations yet it didn’t prevent them from doing what they did. They confronted one guy thrice within a couple days of doing these things, so one could argue that it doesn’t do as much to prevent these things as we’d like.
Some things you might consider negative:
-It’s questionable as to whether or not this programme serves as a preventative measure against potential sexual offenders; as I said above, many people they caught were aware of the show and had seen it.
-Since they classify themselves as a news programme though, they don’t need to censor the identities of the men they catch; the breach of their privacy, therefore, is an added punishment these men get; other men who commit the same crime, without the television coverage, are not subject to the same level of punishment, and thus (you might argue) violates the Constitutional protection against the cruel and unusual.
Some things you might consider positive:
-One of the people caught was a teacher whose students were roughly the age of the teenagers he was pursuing
-One guy whom they caught had guns in his car
-One deputy sheriff was caught and had what is described as a “weapons arsenal” in his car
-One guy whom they caught actually brought his 5-year-old son with him
-Some of the guys who were caught brought drugs with them
-At least one of those guys admitted that he wants to do this with underaged girls because he thinks they’re more “pure” (yeah, it’s gross, isn’t it?)
-The guys who are caught may be sent to prison (some don’t), but all those convicted need to register as sex offenders (although we could also argue that the sex offender registry is unconstitutional and unfair, that’s another whoppingly large topic for another time)
Other point to consider
-Some people think that these offenders suffer from mental illness that compels them to commit these sorts of crimes. It certainly would explain why one man was caught three times within a couple days of doing these things (it was before they began to work with law enforcement, so he wasn’t arrested yet, though he later was for other crimes of an indecent nature). It could also explain why some of the offenders they catch already were well-aware of the programme and have seen it, yet that didn’t prevent them from trying it themselves. One could argue that this show, therefore, is aimed in the wrong direction – perhaps it should work on rehabilitation rather than televised punishments that may not even be effective.
There have been objections posed by journalists, but I’d like to hear what you think as Catholic morality students. What do you think about To Catch a Predator: ethical or not?