Online citizen groups hunting for potential predators often find their work discouraged by law enforcement, due to safety concerns for both the citizen investigator and their “catch,” and the fact that law enforcement will often refuse to accept their help or information that can rarely be used for prosecution, reports USA Today. Members of these organizations, who usually have no law enforcement training, create fake, “decoy” dating or social media profiles and, once connected with someone, share their decoy age. In several instances across the country — including the case that contributed to the cancellation of Dateline NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” — subjects have died by suicide after being confronted by investigators.
Victor Vieth, chief program officer of Zero Abuse Project and founder of the National Child Protection Training Center, told IndyStar that private citizens may not have a complete understanding of how a predator’s mind works — or the danger and gravity of the situation they’ve created. Vieth said law enforcement and health professionals have to understand what is driving each individual’s actions. Another issue to consider is that of safety. The subjects of the catch may feel trapped and decide to harm themselves or others. Their work may inspire others to engage in “vigilante justice.” The work they turn over to police may not be prosecutable.