I think it's a fairly safe bet that nobody 'likes' paedophiles. Whether you perceive what is 'wrong' with adults who are sexually attracted to children as some sort of malfunction, the manifestation of pure evil or somewhere in between I am yet to meet anybody who thinks "you know, I think paedophiles get a bit of a bad press and are perhaps a bit, how do I say this, misunderstood". Often held up as a reason to restore capital punishment, people regarded as 'nonces' or 'kiddie fiddlers' are and shall remain, at least for the foreseeable, the lowest of the low, even when placed alongside other serious criminals such as murderers, armed robbers, kidnappers and terrorists.
There is a reason for me stating this undisputed obvious-ism. In the last few years the phenomenon of the 'online paedophile hunter' has emerged, with adults (usually young men) taking to internet chat rooms late at night and often into the early hours of the following morning, posing as girls aged 13-15 and seeing who amongst the adult population bites. Those who do are then taken down the road of arranging a meeting, only to be greeted by the 'stingers' who take photographs and record footage which ends up on their website or Facebook page. Sometimes this 'evidence' is passed onto the police and these outfits have been known on occasion to become key in securing convictions.
Now there are a great many who admire the work of 'Paedo Hunters' like the quite aptly named Stinson Hunter and see them essentially as diligent, community-minded citizens picking up one of law enforcement's many fumbles and running right to the endzone with it. The police and the courts, they reason, frequently let predatory paedophiles get away with soft sentences and then release them to re-offend. Judges who don't live in the 'real world' simply tell them they've misbehaved and to go to prison for a few years when we all know they should have their bits chopped off and be left to bleed to death in the street - all in the name of 'the decent majority' of course.
There are a few other important dynamics at work here - firstly, support for the likes of Stinson Hunter and 'Dark Justice' is a surefire way to register that you're just as disgusted by the behaviour of paedophiles as the rest of the population, a classic case of "my enemy's enemy is therefore my friend" if I'm ever going to see one. In this endarkened age in which we live, it also represents a sort of 'democratisation' of justice, the removal of the monopoly on investigating crimes from recognised law enforcement and a recognition of some sense that "the law belongs to all of us, we simply choose to delegate it out to them" - one person's 'mob rule' is of course somebody else's people power.
However, something else that has been greatly democratised in 21st century Britain is fame and I'm pretty sure it's this, rather than community spirit or a genuine concern for child welfare that motivates the overwhelming majority of those who devote large parts of their time to entrapping would-be paedophiles online. The first clue is the nature and status of those who take to such activities - where are the former business owners, entrepreneurs, surgeons, authors or astronauts taking to the web (or indeed the dark web) in the sly hours of the morning to dangle a bit of pyrite jailbait? The reality is that most partaking in this are in either dead end employment or none.
With dreams of becoming a rockstar or a bestseller stumbling out of their typewriter long behind them, and the reality of their lives feeling somewhat unsatisfactory, their choices in terms of ways to remedy the situation are fairly limited and go roughly as follows: a) actually do a bit of hard work, learn a new skill, that kind of thing b) apply to go on the next series of Big Brother, or rock up on Jeremy Kyle to discuss why it's not that bad that he's marrying his fiancee (even though she also happens to be his cousin) or c) seek out someone even lower in the food chain to launch a 'moral crusade' against and 'get famous' that way. Paedophiles tick box c) rather neatly.
Look, there's nothing stopping somebody from doing this 'paedophile hunter' thing as a sort of hobby, quietly handing their evidence over to the police and cracking on with their 'real lives' outside the glare of publicity. Although I'd still dispute the merits of what they were doing, I would have no problem whatsoever accepting that their motives were indeed the right ones as well as those stated. However, none of these 'sting operations' operate discreetly and out of the public eye - moreover, the explosion in the number of them since Stinson Hunter and 'Dark Justice' achieved notoriety smacks of opportunistic gatecrashers eyeing a cheap way to snatch their fifteen minutes of fame.
There are of a multitude of selfless and noble activities that individuals can (and in many cases do) involve themselves in where they live. Vulnerable people don't always have a support network or family to call upon and rely on the kindness of those who are at least partially inspired by a genuine desire to give something to others. There are charities which are aimed at saving people from distress or danger, conserving the environment, providing support to those suffering from illness or improving the welfare of animals. Some choose to contribute financially and others give their time, but none of them (well us, actually) demand that our name goes up in lights in return.
If self-styled 'paedophile hunters' were doing a genuine public good then you could perhaps take the utilitarian view of things and conclude that this outweighs the disingenuous nature of their motives. However, the reality is that these idiots represent a danger, not simply to law enforcement and their attempt to catch offenders 'the old fashioned way' but to every last one of us and our way of life. That's before we even countenance the possibility of mistaken identity, the lives of the wholly innocent being ruined and the potential disasters (including suicide) which can result from that. One out of 100 cases being of mistaken identity can only be described as one too many.
What people frequently fail to factor into conversations about complicated issues is the element of the unseen. If a paedophile who is under police investigation finds themselves on the end of an internet sting and works out it is a sting, perhaps even thinking it is the police then they may adjust their behaviour or go off-grid accordingly, totally undermining the police's efforts at great expense to the taxpayer. Publishing their 'evidence' online may also undermine the ability of the accused to get a fair trial and, if represented by a savvy lawyer, see the blatantly guilty (not to mention expensively investigated at our expense) walk out of court unpunished, free to offend again.
We never hear of the disasters, only the success stories.
Perhaps what makes me most angry about dickheads like Stinson Hunter is that there are pernicious, nasty and authoritarian bastards out there just itching to nibble at basic rights like that to a fair trial with the presumption of innocence and due process. Emotive topics like terrorism and rape (see this week's news regarding Danny Kay and Liam Allen) have been used as 'ways in' by those with sinister agendas in the recent past and by using the highly inflammatory subject of abuse against children, plus the working methods that they do, these online vigilantes offer low-hanging fruit to dark forces seeking to strip all of us of freedoms that were won on the battlefield by others.
While we're here, you have to pause and reflect on the mindset of anyone who goes online for several hours at a time, pretending to be a 14 year old girl who is "well up for it" and continuing conversation about all manner of 'adult' topics with men ostensibly two or three times 'her' age. Forgive me, but that clearly comes across as being distinctly at the 'unhealthy' end of the scale and probably poses a truckload more questions than it answers. It even leaves me pondering whether, given their determination to get to the epicentre of the sexual abuse of children, some of these self-appointed 'international paedo hunters' may have 'issues' in the area of being attracted to kids themselves?
Remember all those Tory MPs who had impeccably homophobic voting records (pass section 28, no equal age of consent, don't repeal section 28, no to civil partnerships) who later came out as gay?
Food for thought, I'll leave you to make up your own minds on that one.
Ultimately, the Stinson Hunters and Dark Justices of the world remind me of that colleague possessed of limited ability and the work ethic of a cadaver, but who manages to survive by inviting the pointing of fingers at others and throwing them under the proverbial bus. Were these supremely talented people then they would be applying those talents to something much more productive and rewarding for themselves and others. Were they community-minded in the true sense then they would be helping people (or perhaps animals) in the locality of where they lived with their money and/or time, while not expecting fame, affirmation or a round of applause in return.
What these bastards don't do to help others speaks volumes - in short they are scum, and just as bad as paedophiles themselves in their own way.
I just regret having given them some free publicity.
Anyway, I'll be back Sunday to discuss something 'edgy' like perils of tribalism, why representative democracy fails or racism in politics. If you have a serious topic that you'd like to see covered on these pages then feel free to nominate it on Facebook or the comments here.
Meanwhile I'll leave you with a tribute to all the fame-seekers and see you next time. Thanks once again for reading.