Teens in superhero garb confront online predators
Three teenagers clad in superhero costumes lured men seeking underage girls for sex out into the open in Chilliwack, B.C., capturing the encounters on hidden cameras and putting them online.
In one encounter, the teens lured a man — who thought he had been corresponding online with a 15-year-old girl — to a restaurant, and two of the teens confronted him while wearing Batman and Flash costumes.
When the man goes to leave the restaurant, the teens follow him, shouting, "This man right here is a sex offender."
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The teens posted the encounters on the internet
The teens' efforts are modelled along the lines of the NBC television show To Catch a Predator, in which a reporter, camera crew and, eventually, police wait to confront men who have been lured over the internet.
However, sometimes the men arrive with weapons.
Costumed vigilantism has become so popular that there’s an organization dedicated to it. Based in Seattle, Real Life Superheroes (RLSH) is a group of disparate do-gooders that use "the iconicism of comic book superheroes to make a difference, inspire others, spread a positive message and call attention to issues in our communities."
RLSH members were the subject of Superheroes, an HBO documentary that aired in August. The most notorious member is Phoenix Jones (real name: Benjamin Fodor), who was arrested in October for pepper-spraying a group of people he claims were fighting outside a Seattle nightclub. Other members include SkyMan, the Tri-Colored Crusader (Skyler Nichols), who helps the homeless and breaks up the occasional mugging, and Pitch Black (name unknown).
B.C. police worried the teenage vigilantes — an 18-year-old and two 17-year- olds — could have been creating a risk to them and to their community.
"Now you've aroused that male or that individual to a point where he's feeling that he might be meeting a child for a sexual encounter," said Cpl. Mat. Van Laer of the RCMP child exploitation unit.
"Now if that person decides that he is going to go to a different school, or to a different meeting area or runs into another child, he may decide to act on that child instead," he said.
Chilliwack police met with the three teens behind the "ToTrollaPredator" website, and urged them to stop.
The teens have apparently apologized for their actions.
"They obviously didn't realize they were potentially putting other young people at risk and possibly bringing potential offenders into our communities," said Chilliwack RCMP Cpl. Tammy Hollingsworth.
"They are very upset that it has gone as far as it has and the police are involved," she said.
The teens subsequently retired their superhero costumes and pulled the four videos they posted. However, some of the videos are apparently still circulating on YouTube, and earning the teens fans and critics. The trio also have a fanbase on Facebook.
RCMP say if someone suspects online child abuse, they should call a police detachment or contact cybertip.ca