(WHTM)– They are online and they are looking for kids.
“We have a problem where 20% of minors have been sexually approached online by predators,” State Rep. Jim Gregory (R-Blair) said.
To combat the problem, a number of citizen groups and vigilantes have set up stings to lure and catch the would-be predators. But in Pennsylvania, that’s now a problem.
“Judges are saying you actually didn’t commit a crime if you’re a predator, thinking that online you were going to meet a 15-year-old, you actually meet an adult,” Gregory said.
Clearfield County Judge Frederick Ammerman recently set a precedent when he tossed a case that relied on one of those third-party stings, saying the law only allows victims to be an actual minor, or law enforcement posing as a minor.
“We’ve got to make it possible for these people to be prosecuted,” Gregory said.
Gregory, a childhood sex abuse survivor, is introducing a bill to authorize anyone posing as a minor to catch online predators.
“There’s the larger issue of whether these activities not done by law enforcement, done by individuals, all citizens should occur,” Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association member Greg Rowe said. “And even if they can, is that the right way of doing it?”
The state District Attorneys Association says it respects the motivation of civilian predator hunters but urges them to report their suspicions to the pros and let them handle it.
Gregory expects some people to have concerns about constitutionality, but he says he’s a lawmaker. He makes laws. It’s up to the folks in black robes to decide whether they pass constitutional muster.
And for him, it is personal.
“I’ve lived through hell on earth, and I never want to have to go through that again,” Gregory said. “And I’m saying that these young people that are being solicited by these predators are being placed in a place where they can go through hell on earth, and we need to change it so that that doesn’t happen to them. What has happened to people like me?”
Gregory said law enforcement is stretched thin with limited resources and often doesn’t have the time to devote to online stings.