Child sex abuse is seen as one of the most abhorrent crimes there are, there’s no doubt about that.
Rape and murder are both horrific crimes in their own right, but as soon as you throw an innocent kid who could be your daughter, your son, your sister or your brother into the mix it understandably riles people up.
Paedophiles are seen by many as the lowest of the low and as soon as they’re exposed, online commenters are quick to grab their pitchforks, form an angry mob and demand they’re killed in one ghastly way or another.
The Jimmy Savile saga, alongside the Rotherham and Rochdale grooming cases have made the British public more aware than ever before of child sexual abuse and sewn doubt into their minds about the effectiveness of police in dealing with it.
Some would argue this is why we’ve seen an unprecedented rise in vigilante justice and so-called ‘paedophile hunter’ groups, snaring paedophiles before they go on to potentially abuse children.
One of these groups is Dark Justice.
‘Callum’ and ‘Scott’, a pair of 20-something’s from Newcastle, were spurred on to join forces after seeing a perceived lack of law enforcement in tackling child sex abuse.
We’ve seen a lot of stuff in the news like government cuts and police cuts and just the government cutting away funds from the police and whatnot. In the end we got sick of it and just thought well you gotta do something, you’ve gotta be proactive you can’t just sit and put a little post out saying ‘ahh I’m sick of this shit’ on Twitter or Facebook or any other social media and so we started this and it sorta just went from there.
Unlike a lot of ragtag groups, who promote violence and launch dangerous verbal and physical attacks on paedophiles, before very publicly naming and shaming them online before conviction, Dark Justice take a more pragmatic approach.
The pair deploy online profiles reporting to be females and males from 11-15 years old, and wait for an adult to instigate a conversation, talk sexual and ask to meet up, before following on with that meeting.
They keep a record of all contact made by the suspected paedophiles and hand in all evidence to Northumbria Police, before confronting them on camera. This video footage is then also given as evidence.
Since October 2014, the pair have played a part in 42 successful convictions, but many argue that once released from prison they could re-offend. So we asked, could there be an alternative to criminalisation?
In Germany, they’re currently pioneering a scheme called ‘Don’t Offend’ which encourages those who have a sexual attraction to children, but are yet to act on their urges, to hand themselves in.
They are than able to receive treatment and gain access to professional mental health treatment – which could help modify their behaviour.
However, the Dark Justice guys are hesitant about the idea of such practices being introduced in the UK.
The problem is that they [paedophiles] know there’s help for them, but they never get it. We would be all for it, but the problem is that we’re taking more money away from the victims we help and classing these potential abusers as the victims.
No-one is saying put them in the prison for life, it’s not possible to do that and it’s not fair on their human rights, but what’s the difference between the Germans and us stopping them from meeting a child? If anything we’re doing these people a favour because now they’re going to be able to come forward and say I do need help. Treatment in prison would be the way to go we think.
Dr Sarah Goode, CEO of StopSO (Specialist Treatment Organisation for the Prevention of Sexual Offending), wants to see more co-operation between groups like Dark Justice and the police.
I’m kind of disappointed really that the police aren’t supporting the online activists more. I think that it’s really important for them to work together and to work with these organisations as well.
I think what they’re doing is combating that sense of hopelessness we feel as a society. We hear all of these stories about sexual abuse but we don’t know what to do, but child sex abuse is an entirely preventable disease. It’s simply about human choices and human actions, so we can always change it.
But how widespread is this ‘preventable disease’? Well, we enlisted the help of Jonathan Taylor, a former covert internet investigator within the Metropolitan Police Child Abuse Investigation Command.
During his 10 year stint as an investigator, Taylor created online profiles of children within social networking sites to locate and interact with online predatory paedophiles.
So we asked him to set up a fake online chat profile as 13-year-old ‘Bekki’ and waited for people to get in touch.
We were taken aback as within 10 minutes, 12 individuals got in touch with ‘Bekki’, with an unnamed 38-year-old, from Surrey, even asking our decoy whether she would consider dating him.
Sadly, if a 13-year-old was confronted with this situation, Dr Goode believes they probably wouldn’t stand much of a chance.
Dr Goode said:
Why do girls respond so when an adult mans decides to chat up a 13-year-old girl online why doesn’t she just say, ‘what a weirdo’ and not respond and report him to the police? I think one of the key reasons why girls don’t do that is because we as a society have already groomed her to think that sort of behaviour is acceptable.
Almost a third of all girls experience some form of unwanted sexual touching at school and things like boys sending them photographs of their penis’ and stuff like that at school. So then when it happens online with adult men they don’t know that a line has been crossed there, because they’re used to having very confused boundaries about what is sexually healthy and what is sexually normal.
That sentiment is echoed by Dark Justice, who claim it was normal for underage girls to date boys in their late teens, 20s or even 30s where they grew up.
“When I was growing up it was normal for 18-year-old lads to go out with 12-year-old lasses and it wasn’t really a problem, to their friend group it was normal to hang out with people who were, 18, 19, 20-years old,” ‘Callum’ said.
Yeah it happened a lot. I remember a lass in school who was 13 and her boyfriend was 30 odd. Obviously she is being brainwashed by this person into believing the lies that he obviously fed her, but if it happened then, it’s happening now.
‘Scott’ admits that seeing this kind of behaviour day in, day out has taken an emotional toll on the pair.
“We’d be telling lies if it didn’t make us depressed. Anyone doesn’t want to see a picture of child abuse, that picture will stay in my head till the day I die. You can’t unsee stuff like that,” he said.
During our visit to Newcastle they planned to meet three separate individuals, who had either sent videos of themselves masturbating or sexually explicit messages to what they thought was an underage girl.
But the most disturbing lead of them all was probably that of Ronald Young.
The 63-year-old former bus driver, from Montrose, had been extremely explicit in his text message exchanges to ‘Jessica’, with ‘Scott’ describing it as ‘one of the sickest things I’ve ever had to read’.
The disturbing texts implied he and his five friends would ‘rape’ her and that she could wank him and his dog off simultaneously.
“But he’s going to get the shock of his life when we confront him and say ‘why’re you here today?'” ‘Callum’ exclaimed.
The pair arranged to meet Young at Newcastle Central station and after realising he had been set up tried escaping the pair, to no avail. He was arrested by Northumbria Police shortly after.
Ronald Young was sentenced to two years and three months in prison for attempting to meet a child following sexual grooming and breach of a sexual harm prevention order.
It would seem Dark Justice have found the perfect balance in not coaxing potential paedophiles who may not have acted on their urges with catching those who want to harm children.
While vigilante justice is still a controversial practice, many people are behind groups like Dark Justice taking the law into their own hands as they see authorities flounder in combating child sex abuse.