If you follow our blogs, then you’ve probably read the article we published a while back about the Michigan-based vigilante who was attempting to lure sexual predators online and then, when he’d gathered enough implicating evidence, turn his research over to the police. Well, Michigan certainly seems to be a home-base for this sort of activity, because Lansing now has their very own Facebook group of parents who do exactly the same thing. And by the way, they’re loud and proud about it.
In a Lansing State Journal article, the self-styled 517 Child Predator Exposures group explained what exactly it was that they were hoping to achieve. “Our hope is that predators will think twice before attempting to accost and entice a child because we may be on the other side of that conversation. Our goal is to raise awareness of this very serious and ongoing issue, and expose predators in our local communities.”
Is it legal in Michigan to ‘hunt’ for sexual predators online?
That’s a tricky question, and can only be answered by saying ‘yes and no.’ As you know, pretending to be a police officer is against the law here in Michigan. If at any time a person pretending to be any kind of law enforcement officer in order to get other people to share information, or to coerce others into revealing things, they could get into a lot of trouble which includes being charged with a crime themselves. But there’s also the issue of interfering with an ongoing criminal investigation, even if you don’t realize it, which can lead to more criminal charges.
And those aren’t the only two potential issues with this kind of vigilantism. For example, evidence collected by civilians may not be able to be used in court, which means the people they were hunting could get off scot free on a technicality. Why? Because maintaining the chain of custody is critical to preserving evidence, and untrained civilians aren’t able to do that. Also, making errors in identifying alleged predators could result in lawsuits (think slander) or even criminal charges!
They say they don’t initiate contact, just wait for predators to reach out…
In their statement to the Lansing State Journal, the group, which has over 3,300 members and more than twice as many followers, the group explained how they encounter the online predators they hope to expose. They start by creating false profiles on social media sites, online support groups for teens, and chat applications.
They pretend to be underaged, usually girls, and then wait for a predator to reach out and initiate conversation. “Some of the predators we come into contact with initiate sexual conversation almost immediately. Others gradually introduce sexual conversation. Many send sexual photos, often of themselves.”
Always be careful online, as nothing is what it seems!
This story, regardless of where you stand on the issue, is a good reminder that when you’re online, people are often not what they claim to be. This applies to both the people trolling for sexual encounters with minors, and to the people claiming to be minors. In fact, it can apply to anyone, at any time, in any situation online. If you or a loved one have been caught in an online sting operation, our aggressive sex crime attorneys attorneys can help you. Call 866 766 5245 immediately to discuss your case with an experienced defense attorney.