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.
PeeJ, as it is known, has come in for criticism. It creates crime where there was none.
James Burrell, an FBI supervisory special agent who oversees federal computer crimes investigations for the Boston area.
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,
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:
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
the number drops from "one in five" to 3 percent.
Furthermore, most kids just ignored (and were not upset by) the solicitation:
The reality is far less grave than the ubiquitous "one in five" statistic suggests.
What makes von Erck tick?
No, none of those is true.
From Rolling Stone:
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.
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
One Dateline producer with an eerie premonition said,
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.
In addition, other organizations dedicated to fighting child exploitation have also criticized PJ. One, Corrupted-Justice.com, 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"
Mayor Bret Baldwin severely criticized the operation.
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.
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.