Dateline NBC's Chris Hansen lays into a perpetrator on a "To Catch a Predator" segment
The setup is simple enough. Men enter online chat rooms with the intention of soliciting underage boys and girls. And these targets do exist, but among the potential victims are decoys: adult volunteers posing as minors online, attempting to catch predators red-handed in the event that they are approached. When and if these men suggest or agree to an in-person rendezvous, they’ll be met not by a flirty 15 year-old, but by a probing reporter, a barrage of television cameras and a pair of handcuffs slapped on their wrists. Predators are exposed. Justice is served.
Such is the premise of Dateline NBC’s “To Catch a Predator,” ongoing investigations dedicated to revealing, and more recently, arresting would-be sexual predators. But according to Scott Morrow, what’s portrayed on television is only a tiny snapshot of a bigger picture.
“There is a vast majority of things that people don’t see,” says Morrow, who’s become a strong opponent of the group behind it all.
The methods in questions are those of Perverted Justice, a volunteer-run watchdog organization dedicated to cleaning up Internet chat rooms and, moreover, seeing through to the exposure and conviction of the predators who threaten them. Its staff, which is “carefully selected, screened and trained” according to the group’s Web site, make their rounds in posing as 10- to 15-year-olds, creating respective profiles on chat programs such as Yahoo! and America Online.
From there on in, it’s a matter of simply entering chat rooms, waiting to be approached by a demographic of typically 25- to 60-year-old men and watching as the conversations get sexually explicit. Perverted Justice members then take it upon themselves to gather as much personal information as possible on these individuals and anyone remotely related to them. Or if this was a part of a Dateline sting, whom Perverted Justice has been working with since the program first aired in November 2004, these men’s faces would be smeared across the televisions of the millions of viewers who tuned in.
A noble cause, agree many of the show’s viewers, as well as law enforcement who’ve been enlisted in the cause. After all, Perverted Justice promotes having logged nearly 130 convictions since June 2004, as of press time, at a current rate of several per week.
The problem, says Morrow, comes when the innocent get caught in the crossfire.
“We have no issue with anyone trying to get predators off the Internet,” he says, but refers to the “literally hundreds of people who’ve been fired from their jobs due to accusations from Perverted Justice.”
And Morrow should talk; he’s the owner and media liaison of Corrupted-Justice.com, a Web site created “in reaction to the dangerous and immoral behavior and often illegal actions of the members of Perverted-Justice.com,” as specified on the site. A former Perverted Justice member himself, he describes being “reamed by the senior members” of the site after he started questioning their tactics.
“(They) do the bust and then do everything they could possibly do to ruin the lives of those they’ve targeted. When we say that innocent people are being hurt by Perverted Justice, it’s not a conjecture,” he says.