As of Wednesday the 1st October, 2014:
I sat for a few minutes after Channel 4s new documentary The Paedophile Hunter finished, wanting to write but not knowing where to begin. This, of course, is hardly classifiable as unusual behaviour for me or anyone who chooses to spend large amounts of time trying to articulate those most weirdo and elusive of things: thoughts and all that surround them. But what made it different for me this time was just how indecisive I was about the film’s conclusion and its intended purpose. To educate? To incite? To unite? To inspire? Truth be told, I didn’t have a clue, and 24 hours on I’m still nowere near certain. I was angry, and disbelieving, and completely lacking in sympathy for men who deliberately engage in high risk, predatory behaviour towards vulnerable people, yet at the same time, I felt…sad. Not for the men, but for the world we live in, the world we appear to have failed to save. The world so many of us know so little of.
The reason why I was struggling so much with writing is probably fairly simple at its core: The Paedophile Hunter is one of those very rare, brutally honest documentaries that exists in a genre almost entirely of its own making. We’re used to hearing about vigilantes and people who will do whatever it takes to keep vulnerable people safe, but what we aren’t used to is seeing them stare right at us, through the screen, as if this is all fairly normal. That’s exactly what we were confronted with tonight, when Stinson Hunter, self-confessed professional paedophile revealer, showed up on Channel 4, all (metaphorical) guns blazing. With no distance between him and us and us more or less sitting in his front-room while he groomed the groomers, you couldn’t not look at the screen. And at times, the level of disgust that transcended the boundaries of the television was nothing less than stratospheric. You were right there with him and his no-holds-barred buddies, and a lot of the time, for me at least, it didn’t feel anything other than 100% captivating. Confronted by such alarming behaviour, the only thing you could do was say “wow, this is absolutely terrible.” The scope of this brutal urban theatre, combined with the quality of the filming and editing, meant that it was easy to get lost in thought and a miserable kind of somewhat thrilling contemplation. Sometimes, I even managed to forget that this was about real life. That’s pretty scary.
The most disturbing thing about the film – if it’s even possible or right to rate the level of disturbance when all these things are so blindingly messed up and downright wrong on so many obvious levels – was, for me, just how pathetic the moment was when Stinson finally cornered one of the men he and his posse had worked so hard to entrap. You hear about sexual predators being particularly devious and manipulative. A realm of human being who only exists to cause misery to the most vulnerable of people in our society. Yet never was a man more feeble than when on screen here, all wide eyes and absolutely no idea of the trouble he was in. No clever excuses and no threats made, and they were all like that, really, with very few exceptions: all proper victims, if we can use that word. Utterly bemused about what the hell was going on around them, at times you could actually see their lives being hollowed out from them, right before their eyes. Their careers gone, their marriages in ruin. You could actually see them going through a moment of spiritual understanding where they knew it had finally happened and caught up with them: they had lost everything, and it was always going to end this way.
And the worst, most horrible part was that some of these men looked like they’d known it was coming and they’d been preparing for it for a lifetime. This considered, it’s no wonder that Stinson lacked sympathy in every conceivable way.
The question of whether or not what Stinson does – has done, on numerous occasions – is wrong or right is one that will no doubt be pondered over intensely as the reviews come in, but I don’t think that’s where we should be focusing our efforts – it’s happened, we watched it, we wanted to watch it, those are the facts and I don’t hear anybody saying that he should stop. What concerns me is that for every man that Stinson goes after, another ten are working harder, and smarter, to evade capture. To minimise every trace of their abusive behaviour in a way that cannot be seen and outed so easily. That’s what really scares me.
You look at Twitter and the evidence is strong that people like (or should I say appreciate?) what Stinson is doing. Some think that this man and his gang should be knighted. And you can’t blame them at all, can you? Because if it takes vigilantes to do what the authorities should already be leading a welfare revolution in, then there is something seriously wrong with this picture. Without doubt, we are in big trouble.
Stinson argues that what he is doing is right on every level. It’s hard to argue with his reasoning, too: when he baits and invites these men into his home, he doesn’t use threats of physical violence, and he does not restrict them from leaving whenever they choose (although you could argue that the bullying level is so high and intense that it over-rides some individuals’ cognitive ability to leave). In fact, his biggest offence is playing these villains at their own despicable game. That said, such things hardly seem necessary. When you have enough intimidation on your side to sink a small island – not to mention a video camera capable of beaming those images into the public domain in a mere matter of seconds, and a very receptive, enthusiastic following – you don’t need to make a fist or own a weapon. Words and a barrage of insight about how much trouble one is in are clearly enough.
Much as I agreed with what Stinson said when he argued that these men were doing this of their own accord, and he was merely the catalyst for their demise, difficult questions couldn’t help but arise. Ones I didn’t really want to think about, but found myself musing deeply. Ask yourself: what happens if gangs of more ruthless vigilantes begin to appear? And what about the enormous potential for the public to harrass mistaken identities?
Another thing I worry about is the pact mentality of people who condone such behaviour, without – and this is just potentially, because everyone is different – thinking for themselves. There is the danger, here, of losing ourselves in mass hysteria that may build and build. Of not stopping and thinking and gauging every case on its own merit. I’m not saying any of the men shown in the documentary shouldn’t have been exposed – thinking about it now, I still feel that they all should. I mean…who would want to turn back the clock and give them back their anonymity? Then again, why do these things still nag at me? And what happens if a Stinson Hunter appears on every street corner out there in a matter of weeks? What happens then? Will paedophiles find a way of entirely bypassing the thugs completely? Will I ever stop repeating myself?
Then there are all the other troubling things that this documentary illuminates: if we’re all looking one way, what’s happening over there…or over there? There are so many aspects to abuse and grooming and internet safety that it is impossible to cover them all in one blog post, but here’s a taste: men aren’t the only people who abuse children and young people. People abuse people, and those people can be female, too.
And for all the people out there thinking Don’t be ridiculous, a woman would never do something that terrible to a child or young person, I urge you to keep an open mind and consider the lessons that history has taught us so very many times. From now on, we need to be even more careful and be vigilant about awareness in ways once unimaginable. After all, abuse happens where people aren’t looking. Worse, it happens where they wouldn’t even think to look.
Then there’s the controversial question or notion of paedophilia as a condition, or worse, an identity, which further complicates things. Massively, when you think about it. The stigma of the creepy old man does nothing but serve as a source of amusement for some, while missing the point at best and distracting us from the more complex arguments that some paedophiles keep putting out: that somehow, this is right and acceptable. Creepy old men are the cliché of yesteryear that nobody takes seriously anymore, aren’t they? They’re the caricatures that lack the depth of nastiness that are actually out there. Real, dangerous paedophiles, on the other hand, are increasingly showing themselves as organised, determined individuals who point-blank will not stop. Worse, the paedophile can be anyone, and they don’t have to subscribe to a certain image (contrary to popular belief on social media, they can’t all be recognised by their dress code and their ownership of specific types of glasses). Even more unsettling, to really get to the crux of why this issue is so horrendous can only be done by considering what to do about the problem…which at the moment is not much, if anything at all, bar act when information is available, very often too late. Some experts who have conducted years of research in the field suggest that paedophilia is an ingrained personality trait. Something as difficult to remove as sarcasm or someone who can’t help but laugh at pathetic jokes. Other experts, conversely, believe in the idea of treatment very seriously and are saying that we should treat all paedophiles medically, without exception. For them, paedophiles are just as much victims as the individuals they pursue. For these experts, their evil is not a horrifying choice or learned belief, it is an affliction which we all must pay, literally, to have healed. So that one day, they might be what society calls normal…
Chances are, it’s going to be a long time – if it ever happens – until the two divisions come to universal agreement. Which is why we can’t afford to be lazy any more. The question is, what to do next?