Vigilante Hunters aren’t the solution; Digital Detectives are

Posted: January 15, 2018 | Jim Gamble QPM

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The fact of the matter is, unregulated Paedophile Hunters aren’t going away.  

In reality, their numbers are increasing and their activity is more frequent; often encouraging reckless actions by others. The irony is, we’ve now come to a point where some of them are asking the government to issue guidance on preventing less scrupulous, or over enthusiastic Hunters from going too far; doing the wrong thing.

Ultimately, keeping our children safe is the emotive issue.  Every parent, carer, brother, sister or friend is horrified when they hear a child has been groomed.  When they hear the news, they feel terrified to their core at the thought that it could ever happen to one of their loved ones.  So, it’s little wonder that many people are happy to adopt the ‘end justifies the means philosophy’.  

However, this attitude simply acknowledges that collateral damage is acceptable; that their bull-in-a-china-shop approach is now ruining the reputations of, and causing harm to innocent people. 

The root of the problem starts with the fact that too few police resources are dedicated to this vital area of work.  Contrary to views recently expressed, it’s not a training issue; the few police officers who do this work are actually amongst the best in the world. There simply aren’t enough of them.
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The toxic narrative that the police don’t care simply is not true.

The blaming of law enforcement’s inability to engage and deter predators online creates the perfect storm; exploited by some well-intentioned individuals, as well as a few others. They are the self-promoting, self-serving, egotistical live streamers, who take matters into their own hands and out of the hands of justice.  No matter what they say, the greater good is not achieved by naming and shaming the wrong person, or by providing the excuse for others to adopt the role of judge, jury and executioner. 

If the vigilante phenomenon has taught us one thing, it’s that you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to catch a predator.  Ordinary people can make a real difference.  

So, let’s take a hard look at the facts; The Chief Constable of Norfolk, Simon Bailey, set out the scale of the problem last year when said that 100,000 UK IP addresses are downloading indecent images of someone’s child every single day and there could be 20,000 predators online right now seeking to groom our children.  We are also told that nationally about 400 arrests are made for offences related to this abuse every month.  How do these numbers stack up? They don’t.

That said, it is clear to everyone that the police need to be empowered to do more.  They need support; greater access to resources, real investment from government and critically, an open mind to the possibilities that can be found in ethical and appropriate partnerships with the public. 

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The answer does not lie with unregulated cowboys lynching people online or via live streaming at the point of confrontation.  The answer must begin and remain within the law. 

Therefore, we could start by creating an offence of Masquerading, i.e. Make it a criminal offence for anyone above the age of 18 to engage online with someone they know, or believe to be, under the age of 18, unless they can show they had lawful authority or reasonable excuse. 

This isn’t unreasonable – where else would it be okay for a 50 year-old-man to pretend to be a teenage girl?

This approach of regulation would make it easy to stop predators engaging in this way and actually inhibit paedophile hunters themselves.  Critically, it would also open the door for police forces to recruit and authorise special constables.  Special constables are not a new phenomenon; they have existed in England and Wales since the 60’s and comprise of citizen volunteers who are recruited, vetted, trained and supervised by local police forces.  They wear a uniform and patrol real streets.

Why shouldn’t these public spirited, vetted volunteers be deployed on our virtual highways?

 

This article originally appeared in the Daily Mirror on Saturday 13th January 2018.

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