Stinson Hunter is an inevitability in a world completely blindsided by the power of technology.
Fulfilling the criteria of your average Daily Mail reader’s idea of a ‘chav’ – broken home, jail time, cap, sportswear, bad tattoos, lip piercing, a confidence that far exceeds his station in life – he spends his time sitting silently in the corner of 18+ websites in the guise of a young girl, waiting for someone to approach.
When they do, and be under no illusion, they do; a former Metropolitan Police office who worked in child protection doing more or less what Stinson is doing claimed he had over 2000 approaches from men, he advises them of his ‘age’, usually between 11 and 15. Some move on.
Once he’s hooked them, and the case studies we were shown during last night’s Channel 4 programme ‘The Paedophile Hunter’ suggested that’ shooting fish in a barrel’ was the appropriate idiom, he plays along with their fantasies, reminding them of his ‘age’ intermittently, until the sexually suggestive remarks and nude selfies begin arriving. He arranges a meet and he and his crew of fearsome looking hard cases (plus a refugee from a Beastie Boys concert circa 1988 purportedly in charge of media) wait inside his house, cameras trained on the door.
It’s a premise familiar to anyone who’s seen US ‘entrapment as entertainment’s finest offering, ‘To Catch A Predator’. Their mark arrives, strolls to the open door, knocks and is startled to be confronted by what is presumably his worst nightmare. He is asked to sit down as Hunter advises him that no violence will take place and introduces himself and says what he does.
Most are surprisingly calm, reach for a cigarette and deny any knowledge of the fictional child’s age. A couple risk the wrath of walking through the estate, Stinson’s activities so familiar to the local community that cries of ‘Paedo!’ ring in the offender’s ears until the police come and pick him up. Presumably to minimise his risk of being battered to death with the bottle of wine he brought to the date.
The footage is then edited and uploaded to social media platforms, feeding those hungry mouths desperate for an excuse to vent their hatred.
The Paedophile Hunter panders to our vague fears about internet grooming, a problem that the police themselves acknowledge they cannot contain. They listlessly condemn Stinson Hunter’s actions, while acknowledging they would use the same methods if they had the manpower. It’s a neat and tidy articulation of vigilantism – functional, effective and controlled by a man that may not look much like your friendly neighbourhood policeman, but behaves in precisely the manner we nostalgically imagine he once did.
And therein lies the problem. For all his efforts at compliance and assertions that he simply wants these predatory, revolting men to be revealed for what they are, he cannot control the fallout. One mark has committed suicide since the film was made, and while it’s difficult to feel anything but satisfaction after learning what he’d been telling what he believed to be a vulnerable, underage girl precisely what he’d like to do to her sexually, the impact on the man’s family, his own children, is barely touched upon; Stinson stating he’s not responsible for the man’s actions, he merely exposes them.
The motivation behind his crusade is unclear, although moments in the documentary hint at a personal pain of significant breadth and depth. When asked by the filmmaker whether he himself was abused, he responds with a “No comment”. He talks to his dog on camera shortly after and his desperation to be loved and fear that the one sentient being he loves without condition might leave him, answers that question succinctly on his behalf.
Whatever his reasons, he has a huge and rapidly growing following. His videos on Facebook are met with almost universal approval and encouragement, liberally interspersed with calls to bring back capital punishment and swearing. It’s only a matter of time before one of them, two of them, ten of them, are inspired by Hunter’s work and set about trying to catch a few of their own. As The Paedophile Hunter showed us, a smartphone, time and superficial knowledge of internet chatrooms appears to be all that’s needed to get started and there’s no shortage of people with access to those amenities.
What they don’t have is Stinson Hunter’s brain. He’s researched his art carefully, familiarising himself with how to remain on the right side of the thin blue line, how to ensure his evidence is admissible and assisting the police in obtaining convictions where possible. Whatever it is that’s driving him, it isn’t hatred, bloodlust, or the desire to become famous, despite what some claim.
Stinson Hunter’s form of vigilantism is not ideal, but what is in a globally networked world where thousands of predators apparently lie in wait to take advantage of vulnerability wherever it shows itself? He’s sensible enough to remove the emotion from what he’s doing, which is what the justice system was invented for and why the police can use his evidence.
Unfortunately, the same blinkered judgements we make of people based on what they look like and how they live that compelled us watch Channel 4’s “most important documentary of the year” in the first place will carry many to the belief that they can be a Paedophile Hunter. The emotion missing from Stinson is arguably what drives people to vociferously support such causes in the first place and mayhem will ensue. Paedophiles will take fewer risks, will be less inclined toward being lured to a remote location to have the living crap beaten out of them. Innocent people will be attacked. They’ll die while children continue to be groomed for horrific abuse.
Social media hasn’t just made it possible for men in their forties to pursue eleven year old girls. The equality it affords us means that positive, correctly motivated action is diluted to the point where just the rudimentary components are visible and seized upon by the people least qualified in society to operate them.
Ironically, Stinson Hunter’s crusade is inspirational. But it would be to everyone’s detriment, especially those he seeks to protect, if he becomes an inspiration.
Images via facebook.