For the past several months, Dateline has been targeting online predators. Although the TV-viewing audience continues to be enthralled week after week, each time the episode is the same thing over and over again: A man shows up to a random house expecting to hook up (inappropriately) with an underage girl and instead comes face to face with a news reporter and a camera crew. Each time, the man in question tries to make some plausible excuse as to why he is even there, nevermind with fast food in hand and sometimes only partially clothed.
My question is this: Why would anyone risk picking someone up on the Internet — a child no less — given even the slightest chance of not only getting caught but also caught on camera? And even if you don’t become as infamous as those on Dateline, there are news stories cropping up all over the place, like this one from the Chicago Tribune about police setting up their own stings to catch pedophiles. And then there is the web site Perverted Justice who started this whole thing — and whose 27-year-old founder recently signed a six-figure contract with Dateline, proving that this fascination isn’t going away any time soon.
Obviously, I am over-simplifying this issue. There are some people out there who are compulsive, mentally ill, and cannot help themselves. But even then, the idea of finding “prey” online seems a high risk strategy. Maybe by showing people getting caught time and time again, Dateline and Perverted Justice will put themselves out of business? One can hope, but not count on it.