“Hi, I’m Chris Hansen with Dateline NBC, what do you think you’re doing here?”
Okay, look, I’m all for catching Internet perverts who prey on little kids and look to engage in assorted sex acts with them. Truth be told, I’d like see them undergo castration without even the benefit of local anesthesia and then spend a good portion of the rest of their life behind bars. But, c’mon, I just don’t want to watch it week in and week out. After the latest installment of To Catch A Predator I’m beginning to feel a bit voyeuristic. Yeah, I know, change the channel but since I don’t have cable, my options are limited.
Believe me, I get the premise. A decoy enters a chat room posing as an underage girl or boy and starts talking about sex. Not long afterwards they are inundated with unsolicited requests for sex and private messages from other users and an initial phone call is set up so that they two can meet in person. The intended predator is advised that the youngster will be home all by their lonesome and is invited over for visit. It’s there at the house that the local authorities will have a sting operation set up and once the suspect leaves the premises, they’ll bust him with guns drawn and a show of force that would make Rodney King re-think his options.
Naturally, all of this is caught on hidden cameras strategically placed inside and outside the house.
Excuses, excuses, excuses!
Once the predator enters the house and is confronted and advised by the ever vigilant Chris Hansen that he or she (haven’t seen a woman busted, yet) is part of a Dateline NBC investigation, they usually try and recant their intentions about why they were there in the first place. The list of excuses runs the gamut but here’s a few of the heavy hitters.
"I swear, I’ve never done this before!"
"I was only here to help, I wanted to warn him/her about the dangers of the Internet!"
"I just came here to talk, I would never have sex with a minor!"
"I thought he/she was old enough!”
Many times, the visitors come bearing gifts. From what I’ve seen those gifts are usually bottles of cheap booze and a brand spanking new package of condoms. Mr. Hansen will often confront the visitor with the actual text of their conversation(s). Usually this is when the visitor decides it’s time to head for the exit and once outside, is quickly apprehended by the local authorities.
Coming Soon to a City Near You?
So far ten US cities have played host to members of an organization that calls itself Perverted Justice and their friends at NBC. Perverted Justice takes care of all the logistics such as the house, supplies the decoys and in turn is compensated by NBC to the tune of approximately $100,000 per city. Here’s the cities that they visited so far and some of the highlights that have graced our little screen.
New York City
Where else would you start? Over a three day period, eighteen men showed up for their appointment. The most illustrious was a New York City Fireman who was soon fired from his job.
Apparently word didn’t get out fast enough and if it did, nobody was listening. Nineteen men over a three day period. The cast of characters included a high school teacher and a rabbi. Believe it or not, one dude showed up at the house already naked.
Pronouncing they were providing a public service but probably due to high ratings, NBC decided to expand the previous one hour format to two hours. Over a three day period, fifty men came knocking on the door. One worked for the Department of Homeland Security and two others claimed that they had seen the previous shows but decided to come anyway.
My adopted state played host to Perverted Justice and saw eighteen men, some of whom drove for hours, busted over a three day period. In a strange twist, under Ohio law, for most of the serious charges to stick, the suspect must be talking to law enforcement officials at the time the crime was being committed. No problem, members of Perverted Justice were temporarily deputized for the duration of the operation.
Fort Myers, Florida
The Sunshine State netted twenty four men over a three day period. One dude even had his five year old son tag along for the ride and perhaps, in the strangest episode of all, another dude mentioned something involving a tub of Cool Whip and a cat. Even my imagination isn’t that vivid.
Twenty men over two weekends worth of work. No animal lovers or any other “notable” characters although many of the men who dropped by claimed they were familiar with the Dateline NBC investigation.
Thirty men over a three day period. The cast of characters included several folks claiming to be computer engineers, a person of “high society” a medical doctor and a Marine Corp sniper. When police busted him and searched his vehicle, they found a shotgun in the back of his truck.
Long Beach, California
What’s up with California? On their third visit there, Dateline nabbed thirty five men over a three day period. Even more impressive or saddening is that word had leaked out in town about the investigation but still the men kept coming.
Law enforcement officials netted twenty one men over four days. Most notable was an assistant district attorney who, although he never actually showed up at the house itself, was going to be issued a search warrant for his own premises. When the police showed up, he shot and killed himself.
In another example of the “Don’t mess with Texas” attitude, once neighbors in the area got wind of the investigation, they protested that NBC was actually attracting sexual predators to their little enclave.
Flagler Beach, Florida
Twenty one men over four days. The most prominent was a local sheriff’s deputy from a neighboring county.
And the beat goes on…
Will the series ever run out of possible offenders? It saddens me to say that in my humble opinion, it probably won’t. There will always be more than enough perverts to go around and most of them are probably aware by now that they might be being set up. It’s frightening to think that for every one of them caught up in a sting operation, there might be hundreds more going on about their business anonymously.
Will the series ever run out of viewers? Who knows? Maybe it’s finally sinking in to some parents and teens that even though the Internet is an amazing tool with wonderful potential, there’s a dark side lurking beneath the surface to just about everything.
Too many hours in front of the television with nothing else to do.