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Perverted Justice: A Brief Overview

Barrie Casper, July 2009. 

Perverted Justice, an online group set up to entrap underage sex “predators,” was set up in 2002 by Frank Fencepost and Xavier Von Erck (born Philip John Eide). It was incorporated as the PERVERTED JUSTICE FOUNDATION, INC. in California on Sept. 20, 2006. [* see the formal data

They claim responsibility for the convictions of 314 men as of March 28, 2009.  

They operate as follows: 

A member will create the online profile of a minor, generally in the 10-15 year-old age range. They then enter a chat room and wait to be contacted. If contacted by an adult, they engage him in conversation. If it heads in any sexual way, they encourage it and get the man to chat as explicitly as possible. Naturally, they keep logs of the chats.

If the man makes or accepts an offer to meet the minor, a trap is set up. Law enforcement is contacted, and they wait in hiding for the arrival of the man. Once he arrives, they pounce on him, often with guns drawn and in a manner befitting a violent criminal. 

This formula became the basis for the NBC television show, To Catch a Predator, hosted by Chris Hansen, in which these stings are carried out in a house rented by the network with TV cameras running. NBC pays Perverted Justice between $100,000 and $150,000 per episode. 

(And in an unprecedented arrangement for a supposed “news” show, PJ is also receiving a cut of the DVD sales! “That arrangement, and the show's sensationalism, make some at the network squirm.”) 

PeeJ, as it is known, has come in for criticism. It creates crime where there was none. 

"We may get a whole raft of people who are entrapped into committing crimes that they otherwise wouldn't normally do," said Boston attorney Harvey Silverglate, who specializes in criminal defense and civil liberties. "This is not an area in which people untrained in law enforcement should go out and act as vigilantes," Silverglate said. "Citizens do a public service when they solve crime - but not when they create it." 

James Burrell, an FBI supervisory special agent who oversees federal computer crimes investigations for the Boston area. 

"From a law enforcement perspective, the issue we deal with is that entrapment is used by some of these groups, which is not conducive to admissibility in a case or prosecution."

Predator panic

Is online child sex solicitation so great a problem that such an approach is warranted? Claims of widespread danger appear to be overblown and misplaced. 

According to a May 3, 2006, "ABC News" report, 

"One in five children is now approached by online predators." 

Predator Panic - Reality Check on Sex Offenders skeptical; Benjamin Radford,, 16 May 2006 

This alarming statistic is commonly cited in news stories about prevalence of Internet predators. The claim can be traced back to a 2001 Department of Justice study issued by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children ("The Youth Internet Safety Survey") that asked 1,501 American teens between 10 and 17 about their online experiences. Among the study's conclusions: 

"Almost one in five (19%)...received an unwanted sexual solicitation in the past year." 

Not a single one of the reported solicitations led to any actual sexual contact or assault. Furthermore, almost half of the "sexual solicitations" came not from "predators" or adults but from other teens.

When the study examined the type of Internet "solicitation" parents are most concerned about 

(e.g., someone who asked to meet the teen somewhere, called the teen on the telephone, or sent gifts), 

the number drops from "one in five" to 3 percent.

This is a far cry from a "national epidemic" of children being "approached by online predators." As the study noted, 

"The problem highlighted in this survey is not just adult males trolling for sex. Much of the offending behavior comes from other youth [and] from females."

Furthermore, most kids just ignored (and were not upset by) the solicitation: 

"Most youth are not bothered much by what they encounter on the Internet ... Most young people seem to know what to do to deflect these sexual 'come ons.”

The reality is far less grave than the ubiquitous "one in five" statistic suggests.

What makes von Erck tick?

Just what type of man would spend inordinate amounts of time impersonating youngsters for the purpose of entrapping men who appear to spend much of their time online? 
Why does he do what he does? 
Was he himself molested, or a family member? 

No, none of those is true. 

From Rolling Stone:

"Though he wasn't molested himself, Von Erck felt robbed of his childhood by his father and legally changed his name from Phillip Eide to eradicate the last vestiges of his paternal namesake. ‘My dad was an alcoholic scumbag commercial fisherman who hit my mom,’ he says. ‘She left him when I was one, and he went on to impregnate ten more women up and down the West Coast. His name is garbage.’" 

From this not only is it clear that von Erck has serious issues with men who are sexually active, but he resents a great deal his father who neglected and abandoned him. It is not difficult to posit that he is displacing enormous amounts of anger from his own father onto men who seem to give inordinate amounts of attention to youth. 

At its height, To Catch a Predator doubled the audience of the Today Show and drew more viewers than both the Nightly News and top entertainment shows. 

“Even by the bug-eating, race-baiting, promiscuity-celebrating standards of reality television, "To Catch a Predator" is monstrously exploitative--a Television Age Roman coliseum where freakish criminals are publicly humiliated for bloodsport and ratings.” 


Perverted Justice has many enemies. There are websites devoted to attacking Von Erck and his nameless volunteer corps, and to outing and identifying the people who conduct Perverted Justice's
stings. These anti-PJ activists describe themselves as combating vigilantism and what they see as the group's entrapment tactics. 

'To Catch a Predator': The New American Witch Hunt for Dangerous Pedophiles; Rolling Stone # 1032; Vanessa Grigoriadis, 9 Aug 2009

One Dateline producer with an eerie premonition said, 

"One of these guys is going to go home and shoot himself in the head. The Perverted Justice people are insane, and they'll do something to embarrass us.”

"There's no doubt," says another NBC News staffer, "that somewhere down the line, some district attorney is going to ask us for outtakes or footage from a story, and we're going to say, 'We don't do that because we don't want to be an agent of the police.' And he's going to say, 'You did with "Predator." There is a sense [in the news division] that standards don't matter." 

It's not just NBC staff that finds fault with "To Catch a Predator." 

Brad Russ, the former commander of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC) for Northern New England, a federal program designed to help local authorities fight child pornography and Internet predators, has participated in many online sting operations. 

"I have a real problem with any citizens' group
conducting any investigation into any crime," he says. "It's a mistake for law enforcement to abdicate its responsibility to citizens." 

In addition, other organizations dedicated to fighting child exploitation have also criticized PJ. One,, is made up of disgruntled former PJ staffers. While no friends of those who would fight for youth sexual liberation, they oppose the tactics of PJ and claim that over 4,500 innocent men have been harassed by PJ.

Premonition comes true

It was not long before what the Dateline producer had predicted came true. Within two months, a TCAP sting victim, who just happened to be former Kaufman County (Texas) District Attorney Louis "Bill"
Conradt Jr., shot and killed himself as the camera crew and police closed in on his home on a Sunday afternoon. Police say he had solicited sex from a decoy posing online as a 13-year-old boy, or at least that is what PJ told them. 

Mayor Bret Baldwin severely criticized the operation.

"I don't think bringing predators into the middle of our neighborhoods where children live is the answer to the problem," he said.
"We should be very concerned about this dangerous trend of combining law enforcement with sensationalistic commercial television," said Tim Evans, a Fort Worth attorney.

Creating crime where none may have existed is another criticism from lawyers who have represented men arrested in such stings. They say they use sophisticated methods to lure men who would otherwise be unlikely to act on what they claim are only sexual fantasies.  

The foregoing represents typical journalistic attitudes towards PJ from 2006. By 2008 however, the tenor had changed. 

“When a TV show makes you feel sorry for potential child rapists, you know it's doing something wrong. To Catch A Predator is that show.” 

Charlie Brooker's screen burn - 'After making them sweat, Hansen reveals his camera crew. Ta da! You're on Paedle's About!' Charlie Brooker, The Guardian, May 31, 2008

As the operation unraveled, two stings were all for nought. In North Florida, evidence had been obtained illegally , and in an Illinois case the charges had to be dropped, as they eventually were in the fatal Texas case. 


At the time of this writing, a number of lawsuits against the Perverted Justice Foundation, including one brought by the family of the man who killed himself during a To Catch a Predator raid, have been settled or are pending. They generally involve defamation of character and/or false accusations resulting in loss of employment, stature, or home.

Without the income from the NBC program, in the face of these lawsuits, the future of PJ is in doubt.
For more info, read the Wilipedia section about Perverted Justice.

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