Preying on child predators

By Sujay Kumar

In 1707, child predators were shackled to a wooden structure and displayed in a busy marketplace. In 2007, child predators are ambushed in a kitchen and displayed every Wednesday night at 8, 7 central, on NBC.

Three hundred years apart, both the London pillory and Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator” publicly humiliate those who prey on little children. Of course, somewhere in the hour of standing in the center of town or between commercials, justice is served.

“To Catch a Predator” is Dateline’s seemingly endless special series in which sexual predators are seduced through online chats into arranging a rendez vous with a child “alone” in a suburban house. The criminal is confronted in the kitchen by ace reporter Chris Hansen and later arrested by the authorities waiting outside.

Since its debut in November 2004, the NBC hit has exposed more than 240 suspected online predators. Critics say although NBC is aiding the war on sexual predators, it broadcasts an archaic form of punishment while also crossing the line between entertainment and authority.

Could it be that NBC and Chris Hansen do not have the right to publicly humiliate potential child molesters?

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In a one-hour episode of the show, we see five predators get nabbed. Each predator has about seven minutes of air time. First, there is a voice reenactment of some of the online conversation between the decoy child and the predator. Here we see the classic art of seduction as the predator asks whether there’s a hot tub in the house, and the decoy replies with, “Ha ha, yes, there’s a hot tub.”

When the sexual predator arrives, he is shown entering the kitchen of the unlocked house, where he enjoys a glass of juice as he waits for his young “friend.”

Fear not faithful Dateline viewers, every dark tunnel has a light. In this case, reporter Chris Hansen is the brightest searchlight on a news magazine show in that time slot. Actually, he’s more like the light attached to the front of a train that flattens criminals who dare to tip toe on the tracks.

Hansen, who falls somewhere between Regis Philbin and Superman on the list of society’s protectors, confidently marches into the room to confront the potential pedophile. He prods at the unsuspecting criminal with questions that seek the truth such as, “Are you excited?” or “Have you ever watched television? Then you probably know that I’m Chris Hansen with Dateline NBC.”

When compared with the startled and probably severely mentally disturbed sexual deviant, Hansen’s composure is amazing. You almost forget that he has only had a few days to prepare for this encounter as he flawlessly pouts his lips, squints his eyes, and asks if the predator really did write that he wanted to “blank blank her blank in the blank blank” during the online conversation. When the predator happens to be naked, crying or even both, Hansen never fails to make himself shine.

“To Catch a Predator” has great ratings, but we all know ratings aren’t the main focus of a television network. NBC is making a bold move for the sake of educating the public by airing the show. What better way to educate viewers about child predators then by showing them hundreds of similar, shockingly weird encounters between Chris Hansen and predators every week?

The producers don’t think there is a better way. Hidden camera shows about fraud, identity theft and human trafficking are already in production.

Defender of justice Chris Hansen has still not said whether he will be the host of any of these new shows, but he did say something interesting about “To Catch a Predator.” “The compulsion gets to the point where nothing will be satisfying except for that face-to-face meeting with that young girl or boy,” he says, “and the line between reality and fantasy gets blurred.”

I think he was talking about the predators.