Wednesday, October 04, 2006

To Catch a Predator

All this craziness in the House with Foley's dirty emails reminded me of the Dateline show where they arrest guys who have dirty chats with underage kids.

If you haven't seen it, the show basically chronicles a police sting. Law enforcement chats online pretending to be underage boys or girls and they wait until someone starts chatting about sex. Then the law enforcement officer, still pretending to be underage, invites the unsuspecting predator over. When he gets there he finds a TV host who asks them questions and then they get arrested. The appeal of the show is watching the predator squirm in his seat while the reporter pulls out chat transcripts and says "Why were you talking to a 13 year old girl about your penis size." And usually they cry or talk about the Bible or act really creepy and sad.

So my question is, how did these people break the law? The show always says that in FL or AZ or whatever state they're in that it is illegal to solicit sex with a minor over the internet. But where's the minor? There isn't a minor in the conversation. It a middle-aged man pretending to be a minor. The guys they are arresting, if they were trying to have sex with anyone, it was this middle-aged man. How can you solicit sex from a fictional person?

Here's an analogy. Police think you're a drug user so they set up a sting. You think you're buying marijuana from a dealer, but the police are pretending to be the dealer. And they don't have real marijuana so they use oregano. If you go and buy oregano, is that a crime? Is it a crime to buy oregano?

Point is these people think what they are doing is illegal, but that's generally not enough to be considered a crime. You actually have to have some conduct that violates the law. Not that these people are scumbags, but the legal issue is interesting to me. I'd love to hear comments or if someone else out there is blogging about this I'd love to read it.