This summer, the Murphy, Tx., police became one of about a dozen Texas law enforcement agencies working with Perverted-Justice.com, an Internet watchdog that received nationwide attention after helping NBC’s Dateline run stings on dozens of men caught trolling chat rooms to meet children for sex, reports the Dallas Morning News. Some call the volunteer organization a selfless grass-roots movement that helps stop potential molesters before they can hurt children. Others call it a vigilante outfit that uses harassing tactics that tromp on privacy rights – including posting online the names and addresses of innocent family members who are related to potential pedophiles. Xavier Von Erck, who founded the Oregon-based group three years ago, says his organization has been integral in more than 200 arrests and at least 76 convictions of child predators, and has exposed the deviant behavior of more than 1,000 men.
Some law enforcement experts worry that the group’s aggressive actions and questionable evidence-gathering methods result in some people being treated as if they are guilty without being convicted of a crime. Brad Russ, director of training for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force program, funded by the U.S. Justice Department, says, “I think it’s a huge mistake when law enforcement partners with citizens to do investigations.” He cited “entrapment issues.” Perverted Justice’s 60 volunteers who pose as children range in age from college freshman to retirees. Only when the men apologize does Perverted Justice consider taking down their personal information. They also must prove to the group that they are in counseling by waiving their privacy rights and allowing Perverted Justice to contact their therapists.