Imagine someone offers you a cigarette, you accept and about halfway through smoking it they tell you the cigarette contains marijuana and they are arresting you for possession. The cigarette never actually contained marijuana and you never sought out drugs, but you get arrested anyhow. That’s how many who were arrested in sex offender stings feel.
Last Friday, Tampa’s CBS affiliate, WTSP, had the courage to report on something that victims had been screaming about for years; Sex Offender stings. Only in this case it’s not an abused child who is the victim, it’s the “predator” caught in the sting.
The Pinellas County Sherriff’s Office is remaining tight lipped after the results of a Channel 10 News investigation discovered that the department was placing ads in Adult online classifieds and inducing individuals with no propensity or intent to engage in sexual activity with a child, into a sexually charged email exchange and only after the fact disclosing that the participant (a police officer) is underage.
This tactic is not exclusive to Pinellas County. In fact complaints from several Counties across Florida describe a scenario where an adult responds to an adults only ad (where site visitors need to be over 18 to enter) seeking a sexual relationship with an adult and are suddenly blindsided by a claim that the person they are chatting with is a minor.
The Internet Crimes Against Children task force sets guidelines for conducting these types of stings, but it is clear that the Police have not been following them. Instead choosing to go “fishing in a barrel”, knowing that public sentiment towards sex offenders, combined with the general humiliation that comes with being charged with such an offense and the bias against them will almost certainly ensure a speedy plea and conviction.
This investigation not only brings this situation to light, but calls into question the hundreds, if not thousands, of recent arrests resulting from these stings. It also prompts the question; are the guys on the registry really the ones we should be keeping an eye on?