The dangers of puritanical policing.
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Butts Now Legally Covered, Let’s Continue
From 2004 to 2007, To Catch A Predator, billed as a “reality cop show,” aired on NBC. Typically, an adult man was lured into meeting a minor for sex, only to be confronted and questioned by a reporter before being unceremoniously arrested by local police.
While the show was certainly responsible for getting some disturbed and dangerous people off the streets, and may very well have prevented some children from becoming victims of statutory rape (or worse), it also walked a very fine line between helping nab genuine criminals and maliciously entrapping men who would never have normally acted on their predilections.
The exceptionally cozy relationship between law enforcement and a huge corporate network didn’t help ease the concerns of many legal experts, and when one of the program’s targets shot himself after realizing what he’d been caught up in, the show quietly went off the air and the unfortunate incident was swept under the proverbial rug.
Regardless of how you judge the show and its results, it’s three-year run clearly demonstrated the willingness of certain law enforcement officials to bend rules and allow borderline vigilantism in the pursuit of good publicity for their departments, and to lead aggressive campaigns to not just investigate, but actively lure individuals into situations where their lives were, sometimes literally, destroyed.
The public, quite rightly, has little in the way of compassion for sexual predators, and that’s especially true when children are involved. But, in the 13 years since To Catch A Predator ended, there has been a steady and worrisome practice by police forces across the western world to run elaborate sting operations, often making arrests in cases where no real world contact was ever made between so-called predators and their victims. Worse yet, people have been routinely hauled before the courts based on conversations that were knowingly taken out of context, or for exchanging pictures or videos which readily appear in Google searches.
To say that some police forces seem overzealous in their pursuit of internet predators is an understatement, but once arrested people are faced with the destruction of their reputations, careers and finances regardless of whether they win or lose—and in the United States, where plea deals are routinely foisted on people who’ve never had their day in court, many choose to go to prison and be branded sex offenders rather than risk spending a decade or more behind bars.
What is Entrapment?
Entrapment depends on the actions and words of the police officers who are conducting the operation, and only occurs when law enforcement officers directly cause or compel a person to commit a crime that the person would not otherwise have committed.
If someone breaks the law entirely through their own volition and without the influence of a police officer, no entrapment has occurred, and the accused will almost certainly be convicted. But, it’s important to understand that if you use entrapment as a defense, you’re in fact admitting that you committed the crime you’ve been charged with– but are arguing that it wasn’t your fault.
This means you have to convince a judge and jurors that you were essentially tricked into committing a crime which the prosecution will paint as being extremely serious. In short, those caught up in police stings face a harsh, uphill battle to maintain their liberty, and, even if acquitted, will likely see their lives left in tatters. It is, in many ways, a system of guilty until proven guilty—be it by the courts, or by public opinion.
Sadly, many police departments have shown complete disregard for fairness when it comes to online sting operations, deliberately taking exchanges out of context and pushing “zero tolerance” agendas for individuals while ignoring the same materials being openly propagated by giant tech firms like Google.
As such, it’s important to follow some basic rules when engaged in conversations and cybersex online.
How Old Are You in Real Life?
If you’re engaging in cybersex with individuals on sites where a credit card is required to gain access, and which specifically state that they’re closed to those under the age of 18, you don’t need to specifically ask for the age of the people you’re playing with. After all, you have a clear and reasonable expectation that those under 18 will not be present.
That said, if someone you’re playing with mentions that they’re under the legal age, immediately end the encounter and report them to the site’s admins.
If you’re on any other form of chat service, such as FList, Discord, or Skype, you do need to ask the real-life age of the person you’re playing with. Merely failing to confirm that the person you’re playing with is over 18 can get you arrested, even if an over 18 age is specifically stated in their profile.
Again, if the answer doesn’t come back as an unequivocal “yes, I’m 18 or older,” immediately cut communication.
Taboo roleplay is not illegal anywhere in the western world, but there are unique risks to playing with someone who’s going to be roleplaying an underage character.
In such cases, regardless of whether you’re on a paid site or not, it is highly advisable to specifically ask the real-life age of the person you’re playing with.
Take, Keep, and Backup Screenshots
It may sound paranoid, but it is always a good idea to take and file screenshots—and to have backups on a separate USB drive— so that you can easily prove that you both asked for, and received, confirmation of your cybersex partner’s age. If you are arrested there is an excellent chance your computer will be confiscated by police who may not have your best interests at heart, and having evidence of your innocence can be the difference between a quick dropping of charges and a time behind bars.
In Canada is it illegal to possess or distribute child pornography, which is completely reasonable till you consider what the Canadian government’s definition of child pornography. Here’s how it’s defined:
Any photograph, film, video or other visual representation that shows a person who is under the age of eighteen years engaged in sexually explicit activity or where the dominant characteristic of the depiction is for a sexual purpose.
The same goes for the United States, where the PROTECT Act of 2003 prohibits the production, distribution or possession of a visual depiction of any kind— including an animated motion picture, drawing, cartoon, sculpture or painting—that depicts a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct.
That means a 3D rendering of someone having sex who looks like they might be under 18 is child pornography. The same goes a drawing, a painting, or even a cartoon character who isn’t even human. Mere possession of such artwork is illegal, and if you so much as email it to a friend you’re now guilty of distribution of child pornography.
Yet, strangely enough, companies like Google and Microsoft are never charged with any such crimes even though you can easily find such artwork in abundance simply by doing an image search of the term “hentai”. Using the definitions set by the Canadian and United States governments, those two search engines are the largest distributors of child pornography in the world, but it seems as if there’s one law for individuals, another for multi-billion-dollar corporations.
The point is, do NOT download such images to your computer, and do not distribute them in any way. If police seize your computer, they can use such files to lay charges against you even if the original reason for seizing the computer was completely unrelated.
Don’t Take the Bait
Never, ever, visit someone in real life that you met online unless you have thoroughly and repeatedly confirmed that they’re over 18.
They might tell you they’re being abused. They might tell you they need help. They might tell you that they ran away and just need a ride home. All of these are tactics which can be used by sting operations to get you to walk into a trap, and once you’ve been busted, you’ll look guilty as sin.
Be Doubly Careful Abroad
If you think getting into legal trouble in places like the United States, France or Australia is bad, you don’t even want to know what happens to people who get tangled up with the law in places like China or Saudi Arabia. If you travel to these places leave the porn and cybersex at home, and that means do not bring along any device which even has a record of you visiting locally forbidden sites.
Shut Your Mouth
If police turn up at your door, regardless of the crime you’re being charged with, or even if they say they’d just like to ask you a few questions, there is always only one correct thing to do—remain silent until you’ve had a chance to retain and discuss the matter with an attorney.
The police may be your friends if you’re getting mugged or somebody’s breaking into your car, but if they’re on your doorstep they are almost certainly not there for your benefit.
In every country in the western world you have the right to remain silent till you’ve gotten a chance to consult with legal counsel, and exercising that right cannot be used against you (no matter what the police might tell you). Remember, anything you say can and will be used against you, so never volunteer information unless your lawyer okays it.
Guard Your Identity
The purpose of this article is not to protect child abusers. Nor is it to sow distrust for law enforcement. As far as I’m concerned, the punishments for those who sexually exploit real life children aren’t harsh enough, and most police are reasonable people who have a genuine interest in going after real criminals as opposed to arresting people for ridiculous and victimless crimes.
That said, the kind of sting operations described in this article took place in all fifty states of the United States in 2019, as well as across Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and western Europe, and unfortunately many of them are being run by people eager to use the law to enforce their personal codes of morality.
Odds are you’ll never get caught up in a sting, but know that all it takes is a jealous spouse, a jilted lover or an ex-friend to report you, and you can find yourself being set up to make some vice squad’s arrest quota.
This being the case, guard your real-life identity online. Unless you really, really trust someone, do NOT give out your real name, address or telephone number. Invest in a good VPN (virtual private network) to conceal your location, and whatever you do don’t post or send real life pictures of yourself.
Remember the Rules Follow the simple rules above (and don’t be a child molesting bastard) and you’ll be able to enjoy places like 3DX without worry.
Is this child pornography? How can you tell if the people having sex in this drawing are older or younger than 18? Even if they are supposed to be under 18, who is being victimized by this drawing? That said, similar images have been used to press charges against people in Canada, Australia, the United States and the UK, resulting in massive legal expenses and the destruction of careers, reputations and families.
Art Credit: Faustsketcher