Vanity Fair had a fascinating and sad article about the overblown public hysteria over online predators.
While VF writer Mark Bowden made sure to point out that there are some real sickos online, he also had these numbers:
Yet the more numerous aggressors may be the police. Three researchers at the University of New Hampshire reported earlier this year that during the period between 2000 and 2006, when Internet use by juveniles grew between 73 and 93 percent, the number of people arrested for soliciting sex online from them grew only 21 percent, from 508 to 615. The number of people arrested for soliciting sex from undercover police like Deery, however, rose 381 percent during the same period. In other words, alleged child-molesters like J are many, many times more likely to be locked up for approaching detectives than children. And despite this full-court press on Internet child predation, those arrested for it represent only 1 percent of all arrests for sex crimes against children and adolescents.
Bowden also published the online chat between “J” and the Detective Deery, who posed as a mother with two small children. Throughout most of the thread, it appears that J only wanted to sleep with Deery, but she kept bringing up the the two girls. Thinking that he could not get the mom without the daughters, he created a fantasy that involved the two girls and was unpublishable — even for Vanity Fair. He has never molested a child, but still had to serve a one-year prison sentence plus probation and was listed as a sex offender for what he wrote in the chat. In the article, which is not online, Bowden seemed to suggest this was “entrapment” by police. Here is what he had to say about the detective and J in a follow-up interview with Vanity Fair.
Detective Michele Deery seemed to have some vigilante sensibilities.
Well, she has a worldview, and it’s not unlike that of many police, which is: they are protecting society from bad guys. And very often the technical rules that bind them get in their way.
Are the police damaging to society?
It leads to innocent people going to jail. In the case of J., we’re not talking about a person who’s innocent in a larger sense—he’s a troubled person, and he would agree, I think. But is he guilty of being a child molester? No. I think the story makes plain that not only did he not molest any children, but he had no intention of ever doing so. What struck me most about the detective’s approach was that she was less interested in determining whether J. was a threat to children than she was in getting the conviction.
While I could see how this threat would be overblown like kidnapping — children are most likely to be kidnapped by people they know rather than complete strangers — it is devastating when it does happen. Also, I was disturbed — although not surprised — by VF editor Graydon Carter’s take on filmmaker Roman Polanski’s crime of child rape. Here is what he had to say about it:
In a funny way, opinion on the matter divides along the line between people who know Polanski and those who don’t. The former group wants him free; the latter group wants him punished. I am the father of five, including two young daughters, and his crime upsets me terribly. But I have huge admiration for him as a man who has worked valiantly to re-assemble a life and reputation and to become a good husband and father. Even during the trial in London, my affection for him never flagged. Perhaps many of his supporters are correct. Perhaps he should be treated differently. Perhaps, in this case, the punishment should fit the criminal rather than the crime. Perhaps the act of penance that would do the greatest amount of lasting good would be for Polanski not to go to jail but instead to spend the next period of his life — perhaps the rest of his life — using his protean talents as a filmmaker to create an anti-rape feature, one that would show the brutality and consequences of his heinous act.
While I admit to swaying between forgiveness and utter disgust myself, I can’t help but think of the message it would send to his 13-year-old victim who has been changed for the rest of her life. That because he is famous, she is not allowed to receive justice? Sure, Polanski has had his share of tragedies in his life and he is very talented, but this doesn’t mean it is okay to give him a pass on such a heinous crime. I can’t help but think there is a tint of classism here as I am not sure how many of his supporters would easily forgive a low-income and no-name stranger raping their own daughters.
Then again, the magazine did compassionately cover the case of J, an anonymous working class and church-going man who must atone for his sins the rest of his life even though he did not actually rape anyone.
Anyways, these articles are worth a read.