What the Tech: Suspected sex predators caught on Facebook Live

What the Tech

A group of parents take the law into their own hands with Facebook Live.

A group of parents in the Lansing, Michigan area are taking the law into their own hands to try and stop sex predators from meeting with children and teens they meet online.

517 Child Predator Exposures is a Facebook page and group that sets up sting operations to catch suspected sex offenders in the act of meeting with underage boys and girls. The group identifies suspected offenders and engage with them online, posing as someone underage. They report and post portions of the chat messages where several suspects have engaged with the ‘decoy’ and set up meetings in person. One suspect suggests to the decoy that they pretend he was raping the young girl in her home when her parents were not home.

Another tells the adult, posing as a teenage girl, that they should meet in a dressing room inside a Sears store for sex.

Each time a suspect sets up a meeting, a member of the group meets them with a smartphone camera rolling and posting as a Facebook Live stream. There are over 7,000 people who’ve “liked” the page and nearly 8,000 who follow it.

Members of the group behind the page are anonymous, but they make the suspect fully visible by face, name and license plate number. In several Facebook Live streams, the man behind the camera calls the suspect by name. When a suspect denies the actions, the man behind the camera says his name and says he has the full chat text and will provide it to police.

In one video, an older man who thought he was going to meet a 16-year-old girl told the member of the group that he “just wanted to meet her.”

Their efforts have been met with appreciation from most of the people watching the video though some have questioned whether their actions might impede any police investigation. Group members have said they’ve had meetings with their local police department with positive results. They also state on the page that they’re careful to follow the law and only identify suspects after they do their own investigation to be certain the person they put on Facebook Live is indeed the person who’s been engaging with the decoy. The group also states no one underage is involved in the sting operations.

So far, none of the busts have resulted in violence. Several suspects talk with the group member before driving or walking away. I’ve spoken to multiple law enforcement officials in other parts of the country who’ve said if this type of action becomes a trend in other states and communities, they fear some of the meetings could turn violent.

I reached out to the anonymous group and members responded with the following statement. In its entirety:

Prior to beginning this movement, we contacted our local city, county and state law enforcement, explained who we are, and what we are doing. We expressed our desire to gain knowledge of our legal boundaries and ascertain a point person to submit our documentation for review.

Most agencies we spoke to were receptive and willing to provide us with the requested information, although some did not have divisions specific to investigate cyber crimes and directed us to contact the state police. The general response from law enforcement is they commend our efforts, but cannot condone it.

From a legal standpoint, we have been advised that although these encounters are risky, we assume very little legal liability, if any. We are aware of the potential dangers and take extensive precautions to ensure our safety. Before we initiate a bust, we have detailed safeguards in place to verify that we are meeting the intended individual from the online profile. If there are any discrepancies, we will not initiate contact.

We try to maintain a calm conversation and the entire encounter is recorded live for our safety as well as the predator we are encountering. On every bust, we assure the predator that we are not law enforcement, and they are under no obligation to stay and speak with us.

It is unanimously understood that there is a level of danger our Team Members could face, and we are in agreement that if proceeding with this movement can save just one young person from the lifelong detrimental effects of child sexual abuse, it is utterly worth it. We are still a growing movement. We are constantly asked to give advice to those interested in pursuing a movement in their own communities.

The most important piece of advice we can share is reach out to your local law enforcement. Discuss your intentions and become familiar with your legal boundaries. Do your research to ensure that your communication with these predators will not compromise a conviction. Educate your communities and encourage parents to discuss the online dangers with their children.

This is not for the faint of heart. A large portion of the messages we receive are shocking, disgusting and difficult to digest. Due to the highly emotional nature of these types of situations, it is imperative that all involved remain calm and collected. Being angry and confrontational will not only put you at risk, but the predator and the public as well. This can lead to very serious legal liability.

If you have any knowledge or suspicion that child sexual abuse is occurring, you have a responsibility as a human being to report it immediately!

NATIONAL SEXUAL ASSAULT HOTLINE: 1-800-656-HOPE NATIONAL CENTER FOR MISSING AND EXPLOITED CHILDREN (NCMEC): 1-800-THE-LOST NCMEC CYBER TIPLINE: REPORT.CYBERTIP.ORG

It takes a village to raise a child and a community to protect one! ~517CPE

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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