There have been numerous cases where civilians have attempted to bring online predators to justice by posing as minors to lure them out. An excellent example of this is the show "To Catch a Predator", where they used the same method to bring pedophiles to justice.
The intention might be good, but is it legal to catch online predators by posing as a minor online? Posing as a minor online to catch a predator is illegal. According to the law, it can be viewed as entrapment and illegal for civilians and police officers. Entrapment is tricking or attempting to trap someone into committing a crime so they can be prosecuted and arrested.
Online predators are one of the major setbacks of living in a digital world. Research states that there are 500,000 active online predators every day. The F.B.I reports that over 50% of victims are between 12 and 15. As a parent, these statistics are terrifying!
Keep reading as this article provides some real-world entrapment examples, offers step-by-step ways to report online predators, how to spot predators online, and more.
What is Entrapment (in the Online World)?
Entrapment is often used as a defense against criminal charges. Some common elements of entrapment include:
- Inciting or implanting the idea to commit the crime
- Pressuring or harassing someone to commit the crime
- Creating an opportunity for someone to commit the crime
Law enforcement can use entrapment if it excludes all the above elements. However, both sides have to prove their case.
The prosecution has to prove that an officer's actions did not lead the defendant to commit the crime.
The defendant has to prove that they are victims of entrapment by establishing an officer used one or all of the tactics listed above to trick them into committing the crime.
As a civilian, posing as a minor to catch a predator might get you in trouble with the law, especially if you don't understand how entrapment works. It is best to liaise with law enforcement to catch a criminal, especially if you are sure they engage in a particular crime.
Additionally, if you can't prove that the criminal freely chose to engage in the crime, they might walk free despite you having all the evidence. Some of the consequences you might face for entrapment include jail time and paying heavy fines.
Many regular citizens are posing as minors to expose pedophiles online. Some of the tactics they are using to avoid trouble with the law include:
- Not pursuing the predator. Most of them will wait to be approached by the suspect.
- Not using illegal methods to lure the predator.
- Revealing that they are not acting as or on behalf of the police to their audience.
Note that using the above tactics does not guarantee that you will not find yourself on the wrong side of the law. The best way to deal with online predators is to report them to the relevant authorities.
How to Report Online Predators
If you are worried about your child being a victim of online grooming and sexual abuse, you should report the matter to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (CEOP). The CEOP is a branch of the National Crime agency that helps keep children and young people safe from online predators.
Once you make a report, you will be contacted by one of the CEOP advisors to share more information about the crime. They can contact you via email or phone. After receiving the data, they will work together with you to help keep your child safe.
If a crime has been committed, they will investigate and identify the perpetrator and bring them to justice. If you suspect that a child is in immediate danger, talk to your local police urgently.
How to Spot an Online Predator
Anonymity is one of the things the internet offers for predators, and many of them thrive because of it. Although discovering their identity might be complicated, identifying their predatory behavior is not. The ability to identify predatory behavior can help you know when your child is being targeted or groomed by an online predator.
Here's what you should look out for:
1. Manipulative language
Predators are expert manipulators, and they will lie, gaslight, or play the victim to make a child question their safety, want to please them, or trick them into believing that they deserve the treatment they are getting.
Predators will twist the facts to make a child feel at fault for everything.
A predator will be your child's best friend. They are too friendly and ask many questions to know intimate details about a child. Predators do this to understand a child's needs and attempt to involve themselves in their daily activities.
Beware if your minor is getting constant texts via email or specific online chatrooms asking about their location or what they are doing. Some predators will go as far as showing up to your child's location unannounced.
3. Overstepping sexual boundaries
Once the cycle of psychological abuse is established, a predator will ask a child for sexual favors. These sexual favors might go beyond nude photos into videos of the child pleasing themselves sexually or engaging in various sexual activities with others while the predator watches.
A predator will often ask a child to participate in sexual activities out of character. Usually, they will use photos and video to blackmail the child into doing worse activities.
To gain more power over the victim, a predator will attack a child's self-esteem and threaten their reputation.
Kids are sensitive about their online image, and when a predator threatens to spread rumors or share indecent photos online of the child, they will naturally feel helpless and do what the pedophile wants.
The child will begin to feel alone in this experience because they are afraid and unable to share with anyone what is happening.