Mimesis Law
22 July 2017

To (Maybe) Catch A Predator

Feb. 23, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — A title like “6 arrested in Snohomish Co. for sex crimes against children” sure catches the eye. Some of the article’s content is equally sensational:

The Washington State Patrol’s Missing and Exploited Children Task Force arrested six people during a four-day operation that targeted individuals who sexually exploit children, the State Patrol announced Monday.

The Snohomish County operation concluded on Sunday with the arrest and charging of six people for crimes including commercial sexual abuse of a minor, rape of a child, sexual abuse of a minor, and child pornography.

The way that’s worded, it would seem that the task force got a bunch of really dangerous people off the streets. These are people “who sexually exploit children,” after all. The charges sound awfully ugly. For ordinary people with ordinary sexual preferences, mere mention of “sexual abuse of a minor,” commercial or not, triggers disgust. Child pornography is probably as bad, and “rape of a child” is about the most terrible sounding crime there is.

So who are these poor child victims?

Undercover officers communicated on the internet with individuals interested in sexual exploitation of children. Officials said the operation generated hundreds of responses. Six individuals agreed to meet with undercover investigators and were subsequently arrested.  Investigators discovered evidence of three victim children with others possible.  The investigation is ongoing.

It would appear that no actual children were harmed in the making of these sex crimes. Given that, first stating that the people were arrested for showing interest in sexual exploitation of children would have probably been a lot less misleading. But then again, it isn’t nearly as effective when it comes to clicks. Or votes. And calling someone who responds to an undercover cop trying to facilitate child prostitution an individual who sexually exploits children is almost sort of accurate, provided that you are willing to accept the premise that a fake child counts as a child and that falling for it once makes a person someone who does it.

Still, anyone should be concerned by the fact there were hundreds of responses to the undercover officer, though it doesn’t say if the initial responses were to the officer offering sex without mentioning age or if they actually first responded to something making it clear that the person they were going to have sex with was underage. It’s a big deal, as no one is going to be surprised that hundreds of horny people might respond to an undercover cop pretending, presumably, to simply be another human being willing to accept money in exchange for sex. There are a lot of horny people out there, and prostitution is illegal almost everywhere in this country. People are going to find someone somewhere. Some of those someones are bound to be undercover cops trying to make things look as bad as possible.

Sadly, another article makes this all a bit more troublesome, as it describes a few specific responders. One apparently used his job to entice the minor:

According to the probable cause statement, Best sent a photo of himself from a fireman’s calendar to the woman he arranged to meet. He told her he was a fireman and would give the family a tour of his fire station.

At least one other situation is even worse:

Once the dates were arranged, men showed up carrying cash, condoms, gift cards, and candy– in some cases even handcuffs and knives.

Moreover, that article describes how the undercover charade actually worked:

Detectives posed as a mother with three children and communicated with suspects by email, text, and phone.

Based on that, it appears this isn’t your typical sting involving child prostitution, but rather people coordinating with a mother who appears willing to let people do horrible things to her children. It certainly seems it isn’t just an online escort ad followed by an age bait and switch, but something where there’s a lot more evidence of what these men wanted to do. Given all of that, these may be pretty bad people. The worst people, in fact. That someone would know that the person who he was hoping to have sex with would exhibit childlike excitement at the prospect of a tour of a fire station and still want to go through with it is disgusting. Bringing candy is about as bad, and the fact that some brought handcuffs and knives is horrifying.

Again, they may have caught some really awful people, and this operation may do the public a huge service. Unfortunately, the fact that authorities routinely engage in questionable stings of the same type and news outlets regularly report it in a way that makes it seem like the police nabbed the devil himself moments before he hurt a real child should make anyone highly suspicious.

The undercover cop may have said she didn’t want to do this with someone who had no experience, tricking that one guy into saying he had three other victims. It may be that the cop asked the men to bring all of those disturbing items, or that they thought it was the mother they were meeting. The knives might be a pocket knife in no way related to the meeting. There are countless ways that what seems awful may actually be far less so. The existence of so many questionable sex stings, and more importantly the fact that authorities have shown time and time again their willingness to fudge the facts knowing news outlets will be complicit should make us doubt authorities when they claim to have caught some bad guys. It’s sad, but it’s the way it is.

That there might have been actual child victims is genuinely upsetting, but in any situation like this, it’s difficult to know what’s real and what isn’t. When authorities and reporters play fast and loose with the facts, using the words “children” and “victims” to refer to an undercover cop or kids who don’t even exist as if they’re indisputably the same thing, anything goes. It’s impossible to know if we should be disturbed or just mildly confused. What we do know is that these cops and all the resources that went into this will not be going to help children who have actually been victims of this sort of thing

People are bound to be upset and then comforted by what the good people in power have done, though, and that’s what gets clicks. It’s also what gets votes.

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