Exploitation or Fetishization?

If you see him coming through the door you are screwed.
I'm sure you've seen it or at least know of it.  To Catch a Predator, part of the Dateline family with Chris Hansen as your host into a world of pedophiles and poor excuses.  On the surface it seems harmless enough.  Who can argue with pedophiles getting busted?  Once you start to think about it, however, things get ... sticky.

For those who don't know, the series of shows is based on a simple idea: people use the Internet to set up sexual meetings with children.  Hansen, with the help of local police and Perverted-Justice (a group that has decoys posing as children in chat rooms who engage in sexual chats with adults and set up meetings) uses the standard uncover tactics in order to catch (mostly) males who come to a house to have sex with a "child."  The pedophiles offer crazy excuses as to why they came to have sex with the "child," and then they are arrested.  You can click here to see an example.

Pedophile arrested and taken off the streets.  A decoy who is left safe.  Hansen gets ratings.  Everyone wins, right?

Not really.

A catch for any age group?  Nope.
While few would argue that arresting pedophiles is a bad thing, if you watch these specials you quickly realize that they are just as sleazy and exploitive as the clueless pedophiles they vow to bring to justice.

Each special is like a laundry list of perversions, complete with pixelated photographs of (often) male genitalia.  Transcripts of Internet chats between an adult male (usually) and a thirteen-year-old (or so) girl are read aloud with voice actors (the girl is usually portrayed as giggley) with the words typed out on screen.  When the chat is too graphic, words are censored, but you still get the gist of it all.  When the pedophiles are confronted by Hansen, he goes through the transcripts again.  A typical conversation may go something like, "You said you want to perform oral sex on her, and would like her to blank your blank.  And you thought she was thirteen."  Throughout the entire show, the fact that the girl is underage is constantly juxtaposed with this highly sexual discussion.  I imagine the sexual talk is described in such detail and the photos shown in order to demonstrate how sleazy these men are, but it comes across as nothing less than another exploitation of "children."

Yes, I'm wearing a thong.  No, I'm not 13.
What kind of underwear are you wearing?  I want to fondle your breasts.  Model your thong for me?  What is your bra size?  This came from one conversation.  None of it was necessary to let audiences know that the man is a pervert.  He's coming to meet a girl he believes to be thirteen for sex.  How much more evidence do you need?  Hansen and company are appealing to the closet pedophile they believe resides in us all.  It reminds one of all the lurid coverage that came with the JonBenet Ramsey case.  (Remember the bruises and the unknown DNA in her panties?)

A pixelated mess shows an active webcam shot.  You can't see anything.  Hansen lets viewers know they are looking at a live webcam shot of the pedophile masturbating that he transmitted to a girl he believed was 11.

A pedophile is identified by his screenname "Rick's Talented Tongue."  Hansen reads transcripts from his chat.  "Can I tease and please your blank with my tongue?"  His penis picture (pixelated to protect viewers) is shown again.

If you were a pedophile without an Internet connection, Hansen's undercover projects would provide you with plenty of material to masturbate to.

It's been argued that Perverted-Justice and To Catch a Predator are really nothing more than harassment and entrapment.  I'm not going into any arguments on that here as to do that raises debate about everything from our justice system to age of consent laws.  What I hoped to show with this was that these specials are not without their own pedophilia taint.  They go above and beyond what they have to show and describe in order to titillate and appeal to deviant sexual interests in children.  It's yet another example of the media saying, "Look how bad this is as we use the exact same mindset to sell our show."  I have no compassion for pedophiles, but I also have no compassion for "reporters" who pretend to be above that while sexualizing all this behavior in order to secure ratings.

Only a decoy would agree to admit to meet a guy with the name "Ice Truck Killer."
I'm sure Hansen and NBC's intentions are good, but I'm also sure the use of the imagery and the reading of transcripts is done in order to keep people watching.

Before the Internet, the United States government was perhaps the biggest distributor of child pornography in an attempt to capture pedophiles.  Project Looking Glass (you can look it up if so inclined) was just one example of the government (such as the U.S. postal service) sending out child pornography in order to arrest pedophiles.  Very few people spoke out against this because 1)hardly anyone knew of it, and 2)who would speak out against catching pedophiles?  The government doesn't have to do such things anymore, as the Internet, which is easily monitored, does all its work for it.  About twice a year you'll hear of a major sex ring being broken up, a ring that distributes some sort of child pornography to various pedophiles and the like.  Hansen's show is a throwback to the era of Project Looking Glass, only this exploitive peep show/sting operation is presented as entertainment for the world to see.  (And like Project Looking Glass, suicide is an outcome of the investigation.)

When hounded by Hansen, the only way out is arrest or a bullet to the head.
From what I can gather, no new episodes of these specials have aired in about three years ... but channels like MSNBC run the old episodes (often several back to back) on a regular basis.  It's like a kiddie porn marathon.

Yes, Hansen has a point that these "sexual predators" are sick, but when you turn the very act you supposedly abhor into a fetish, you are just as guilty ... if not moreso.  Especially when you do it for ratings.


Nikki said...

I don't watch the show, so I have no comment on the exploitation factor. But I do have a comment on the entrapment issue. Emotionally, I am torn. On one hand- It is clearly a case of entrapment. It would be one thing if a child reported the adult, and the show took it from there, posing as that already existing victim. But in the case of the show and these sorts of sting operations, the victim doesn't exist. Or do they already know the perp has done it in the past and are just looking for a way to catch him? Like I said, I don't watch the show. That scenario may be a legit sting operation versus a case of pure entrapment.

If it is entrapment, pure and simple, then it creates a very slippery slope. If the alleged pedophile has yet to actually commit a crime, then he is essentially being arrested for a thought crime, because at that point, all he has done is think about performing an illegal act. At best, they could get him for propositioning a minor.

But, on the other hand, in order to really prove he is a pedophile, some child has to have his or her life ruined. The law is already too soft on child rapists. Getting someone out of rotation before it comes to that point is a good thing, I don't think anyone would argue against that point. But then I'm back to the slippery slope and thought crime issue. As much as I'd like to see all pedophiles castrated on the spot (preferably by the parent of the victim), I can't, in good conscience, justify these means as appropriate because it opens the door to all sorts of Orwellian scenarios where thinking about committing a crime, even going through all the motions leading up to the actual crime, are treated the same as actually committing a crime.

Here in America (perhaps in other countries as well, I can only speak about what I know), we are far too willing to give up certain freedoms in order to be kept "safe." Safety is important, yes. But safety is going to be a very small comfort when we're living in a police state. And although just about everyone wants to see pedophiles off the street, by saying "this is okay," we're saying "go a little further, take away another right, tell us it is in our best interest. Use a monster as your mascot and we'll all bow down, as long as you protect us."

See, I'm emotionally conflicted about this issue. I know you said you're not getting into the whole entrapment issue, but I am interested to hear your thoughts. Tell me where my logic went wrong, because like I said, I don't watch the show. But I know someone who used to work as a decoy for this type of operation, and honestly, I'm not entirely convinced he wasn't a pervert himself.

-Doug Brunell "America's Favorite Son" said...

Entrapment. You and I aren't the only ones who had issues with this. Law enforcement did, too. As some journalist put it (and I'm paraphrasing), there is something wrong with your investigation when your audience has feels sorry for child rapists.

This show got some dangerous people off the street, but based on what situations they showed, it was mainly idiots who may or may not have gone through with having sex with the "child." From what I've read, the decoy was the one who initiated much of the sexual conversation. The adults just continued it. And here is where I start to have problems with things.

Hansen and company went into this with an agenda. Time after time you hear the men who are caught saying, "She kept instant messaging me." Hansen's response, "You're blaming the victim?"

There is no victim here. The decoy was not a minor. The only crime that happened was a man sending pornography (usually of himself) to someone he thought was a minor, and going to meet that "minor" for sex. Nobody was molested. That dances on the definition of "victim."

I doubt most thirteen-year-old girls would be soliciting these guys for sex. I could see fifteen-year-olds and older possibly doing it as a way to play with their sexuality. But I don't see many younger females (or males) doing it, and I don't think this makes up most of the Internet predator problem. A carrot in the form of a decoy is dangled. Eventually people give in. Some were already pedophiles. For others, this may have been their first dabbling in this sort of thing. Either way, I think people, without thinking, would say, "Great. They're in trouble and will maybe think twice in the future." Agreed, but what if they were never given that option in the first place?

If a decoy hadn't pressed the issue, would these men have continued? Maybe. Maybe not. Some did, but how many didn't? How many cut off contact upon finding out the decoy's fake age? We never are told.

The end result is that adults have control over their actions. What is wrong is wrong. Hansen and crew are creating a crime, though. They would argue they are presenting a situation and then capturing those who would act upon it. They are right, but as a society we have to decide where to draw the line. One thing that is obvious from many of these captures is that many of them probably would not have gone this far if they weren't invited. Stupid? Yes. But I don't recall seeing any situation where someone used resources to find out where the decoy lived and showed up uninvited, forced his way in and committed an assault. All of them were invited.

So, who is the real predator?

Rose said...

IMO - the real predators are the ones they catch - who, if that had been an ordinary 11 or 13 year old, would have done what they came to do.

It's kinda like the 'tree falls in the forest' kind of thing - you're just getting to see that the trees do fall, even though you never knew these kinds of people existed and would come to your house to screw your underage daughter. They got caught THIS TIME - who knows how many times they have done it before.

Interesting post. and if it was your kid that was the victim, entrapment would be the least you'd want to see done to them.