Paedophile hunters – A force for good?
Whilst there has never been so much commentary and awareness around child abuse, online paedophile hunter groups’ activities have split opinion in policing circles, with some police chiefs warning of “significant risks” that can arise from their tactics.
According to the 2015-16 Crime Survey for England and Wales, 7% of people aged between 16 and 59 reported that they were sexually abused as a child and here at 33 Legal we speak with survivors of child sexual abuse and grooming every day.
This sort of childhood trauma can have a lasting effect on the survivors and leave them psychologically damaged for the rest of their life.
The desire to protect children will always be high in the public interest and in recent years we have seen a surge in the formation of vigilante type groups who have dubbed themselves as “paedophile hunters”.
Paedophile hunters operate by posing as children in online chat rooms or social media and luring potential paedophiles to meet with what they believe is a child with whom sexual activity with, is the intented outcome.
The suspect is then confronted by these vigilante groups and they are usually filmed doing so. The video footage is then shared on the groups’ social media page. However, this footage is usually shared before the suspect is reported to the police, which police chiefs argue can jeopardise bringing a suspected paedophile to justice.
In 2017 over 55% of prosecutions for grooming a child in engaging in sexual activity were supported by evidence provided by paedophile hunters. The work of the paedophile hunters has been widely praised by the public. However, the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) guidance states that “it is not recommended in any way” to sanction the activities of vigilante groups.
Whilst it is indisputable that the paedophile hunters have contributed to the successful prosecution of child sex offences, have they come at a cost?
There are certainly costs to the administration of justice and to the suspect’s human rights. The work of the paedophile hunters has been known to jeopardise police investigations.
Norfolk Police Chief Constable Simon Bailey states that “revealing the identity of suspected paedophiles gives the suspect the opportunity to destroy evidence before the police can investigate them”.
The work of the paedophile hunters also puts the suspects at risk and gives concerns for the suspect’s safety. A recent BBC documentary highlighted that at least 8 men in the UK have killed themselves in the last 6 years after being labelled sex offenders on social media.
As well as the suspects, there are also fears that the paedophile hunters put the children at risk. The (NPCC) state that “paedophile hunters have no way of safeguarding children”.
There was the widely publicised case of Michael Duff, who killed himself two days after a video of him being confronted by a paedophile hunter was put on social media. He was allegedly in a park waiting to meet a 15 year old girl.
There is also the risk that the paedophile hunters may wrongly accuse someone. If people are wrongly accused of such dreadful acts in such a public way their friends, family and work colleagues may believe that they have committed the offence. In April 2018 the paedophile hunter group “Protecting the Innocent” issued a public apology after live-streaming a confrontation with an innocent, mistakenly identified person.
Here at 33 Legal we support any efforts to bring these suspects to justice particularly those who prey on the vulnerable. However, in our view these efforts should never cross the line where the alleged paedophiles are threatened with violence.
Due process must take place and the race for social media “likes” should not lose sight of the need for a fair trial. If you have any concerns about potential online grooming or child sexual abuse you must call the non-emergency telephone number 101 and report this to the police.
If you or any one you know has been a victim of sexual abuse or historic childhood sexual abuse you may be entitled to compensation.
Here at 33 Legal we pride ourselves in specialising in sexual abuse cases. For many of our clients when they speak to us it may be the first time they disclose what’s happened to them. We provide a safe place to talk and offer the privacy you may require should you not wish to involve anyone else.
If you have experienced and been affected by abuse then get in touch with our specialist staff who can help you make you claim. Call us on 01772 958 006 or message us on our Facebook page for confidential, helpful advice.