There is a television channel in America called Dateline NBC, which hosts a television programme called To Catch a Predator. This programme involves using adults posing as children (usually a 13 year old boy or girl) on chat websites, making arrangements to meet up with adult men in their 'home'. The address given to the men is actually a house filled with hidden cameras, and the host, Chris Hanson.
The men arrive at the house, usually in a car, with condoms, alcohol, and the intention of partaking in sexual acts with a young person. The decoy, an 18 year old actor or actress, dressed to look younger than they are, invites the men into the house. Chris Hanson then strolls out at the right moment and quizzes the men about why they are at the house. He also has the chat log and quotes this back to the men.
Almost every single man who wanders into the house repeats the words "I've never done anything like this before, it's my first time", "I wasn't going to do anything, just hang out" and "I've been stupid." As an entertainment show, this starts to get boring after a while. It also is hard to believe this is the first time for all the men. Unless there aren't actually any real young people willing to meet up with strange men at night. However, you do have predators who break the usual behaviour, by getting naked, bringing a gun, or even one who brought his 5 year old son with him.
Morally, the show is a bit dubious. The men are charged with intention to have sex with someone they believed to be underage. They all have shown intent by arriving at the house, many after having sent photos of themselves naked to the decoy. Also, some of them seem truly dangerous, talking about liking rape, having had previous convictions or who actually already work with young children.
The issue I have with the programme is these men actually haven't committed a crime yet. If you've seen the film Minority Report, the idea of arresting people for crimes they are about to commit has it's issues. These men haven't actually done anything wrong yet. However, what they were planning to do was pretty worrying, and a man who will travel a long way to spend time with a 13 year old girl obviously needs to be watched. Yet, the decoys are actually over 18, and therefore it is perfectly legal for the men to want to have sex with them. This is where the show hits a gray area. The decoys have been criticised for being too persistent and sexual, making it harder for men to refuse. It's hard to know what really is being said in these conversations.
The other issue is the programme actually makes me feel sorry for the men involved. It's hard to watch a person's life completely ruined in a few moments, and watching the realisation of this on the men's faces is almost heartbreaking. Perhaps if I had a 13 year old daughter or son who goes on chat rooms, I wouldn't be so concerned for the men.
The men seem to have rationalised their actions by thinking that the young person wants to partake in sexual activities with them. As Chris Hanson rightly points out, they are 13 (or so they believed) and it is still wrong. Some of the men seem genuinely sorry, but many are just upset they got caught. For some, it isn't their first time meeting young people on the internet.
The absolute worst part of the series is an episode where a well-known district attorney, Bill Conradt, was found engaging in sexual talk with a decoy. He stopped the conversations suddenly and ignored messages from the decoys, but due to his position, the producers decided to go to the man's house and confront him. Bill realised that members of the programme were outside, and the crew heard a gunshot. Bill had taken his own life. To me, this is wrong. People should be given the opportunity to amend their behaviour, and this man had clearly done this. He may in fact have been told he was being watched by the show, but this still doesn't give them the right to ruin his life.
They did in-fact try to copy the series in the UK, but it didn't take off. I think it's just too extreme for British television.
If you like this kind of programme, but the topic is too sensitive for you, you might like Cheaters, a show where private detectives find cheating partners and confront them. It's a lot easier to watch!