By Minne De Boeck (NL-ATSA president), Ellen Janssen, Maaike Blok, Kasia Uzieblo (NL-ATSA board members), David Prescott, & Kieran McCartan
Please note that although
we don’t think the term ‘pedohunter’ is an appropriate term, we will use this
term throughout the blog given that this is the term used in the media. In
other venues, we have also recently heard the terms “predator poacher” and
“sexual predator hunters” used as well.
At the end of 2020, the Netherlands and Belgium were in
an uproar over the disturbing and sometimes criminal actions of so-called
'pedohunters'. The term ‘pedohunters’ refers to individuals who pose as minors
on social media with the aim of getting in touch with people who -allegedly-
want to abuse children. As this was happening, many pedohunters made appearances
on TikTok and Youtube, causing quite a stir in various countries. These
individuals try to arrange an actual meeting with whoever has made contact
with them. The pedohunters’ aim is to 'teach them a lesson' and to publicly
expose them by sharing the confrontation on social media where they might say:
“You here to meet a 15-year old?”. These altercations can involve
threats, intimidation, and possibly serious violence, and even death. For
Arnhem, in the Netherlands, a man lost his life after being
severely abused by several teenagers.
The goal of these pedohunters is to prevent child
sexual abuse (CSA) by taking matters into their own hands. They state that the
police and judiciary are failing to adequately address the problem. But aside from
these “ideological” goals, other motives can also be delineated: Creating
followers on social media, addressing boredom, connecting with peers, the
search for an identity, and gaining social status. In addition, this phenomenon
falls within a larger and more troubling trend of anti-pedophile vigilantism on social media platforms that
can be observed worldwide.
Despite their “noble” motive – to save children from
abuse – their behavior poses a wide range of judicial and societal problems.
After all, simple solutions to complex problems rarely work. In fact, there are
reasons to believe that their behavior might even exacerbate the problem of
CSA. Although laws often don’t strictly forbid the pursuit of people (alleged)
to be a child abuser, the evidence they collect is often rendered useless for
further police investigation and judicial prosecution. Citizens often lack the necessary
knowledge of procedures and precautions to be considered in gathering and
handling evidence, thus risking any further criminal procedures to be
In addition, people who could potentially abuse
children are prematurely alerted by the actions of these pedohunters before law
enforcement can take any action. Consequently, many cannot be prosecuted due to a lack of useful physical evidence and/or the absence of actual criminal
behavior. Moreover, the pedohunter himself is often treading on very thin ice,
especially when the confrontation is accompanied by threats, extortion, and
violence. This often results in additional (investigative) work for the police
and the judiciary, and – notice the irony – precious time that could otherwise
go to the detection and prosecution of people who sexually abuse children is
In addition, when people with bad intentions know that
pedohunters are active to lure them into a trap, chances are high they will
retract themselves into the shadows and dark corners of the internet. There
they find recognition among like-minded people and end up in closed groups that
society can no longer oversee. Feelings of isolation, social loneliness, and
exclusion by society are factors that aggravate a person having not much to
lose and consequently pose an even greater risk to society. Thus, while the
goal, according to the pedohunters, is to prevent CSA, they presumably achieve the
Another underlying issue of pedohunting and the
attention it gets from media is that by only focusing on strangers deemed to engage
in CSA, we close our eyes to where CSA is really taking place and who engages
in it. After all, the majority of CSA is committed by a family member, (family)
friend or acquaintance, not by an unknown perpetrator (Finkelhor, 2012).
Another consequence of these hunts on social media is that
CSA and pedophilia are far too often carelessly lumped together. Only about 50%
of people committing CSA exhibits a pedophilic preference (Schaefer et al.,
2010). Furthermore, a Dutch report shows that in all persons suspected of CSA
who were subjected to psychiatric/psychological assessment, only 20% exhibited
a paraphilia, including
pedophilia but also others; thus 80% did not manifest any paraphilias (Nationaal
Rapporteur Mensenhandel en Seksueel Geweld tegen Kinderen, 2014). In addition, it
is assumed that numerous individuals with pedophilic interests manage to live
an offense-free life. Thus, the dogmatic belief that ‘pedophiles must be
hunted down at all cost’ is erroneous and has major consequences for
non-offending individuals with sexual interests in children.
So, if this dogmatic belief persists and communities
support these vigilantes, changes become even smaller than individuals with
pedophilic interests will dare to discuss their feelings, interests, and
worries. The misconception that pedophilia by definition leads to CSA is not
only very stigmatizing for people with pedophilic interests; it does not
contribute to prevention. People with pedophilic interests do experience multiple
barriers for seeking help because they fear that professionals would react
negatively, report them to the police, or misunderstand their problems. Enhancing
this stigma will only render them more reluctant to seek help and support. And
when help is needed but not sought or not found, this is when situations may
become risky. Given the numbers of people reaching out to support groups, it is
simply not accurate to say that these are people who uniformly seek out
opportunities to offend.
So, what is the right approach to prevent CSA? Offender treatment and various prevention programs, like Stop it Now!, have already proven their importance and usefulness. By reaching out to those who are concerned about their (pedophilic) sexual feelings and/or behaviors towards minors and offering support for their problem, CSA can be prevented. Vigilantes hunting them down is clearly not the solution to the CSA problem.
Finkelhor, D. (2012). Characteristics of crimes against juveniles.
Durham, NH: Crimes against Children Research Center.
Nationaal Rapporteur Mensenhandel en Seksueel
Geweld tegen Kinderen. (2014). Op goede
grond. De aanpak van seksueel geweld tegen kinderen. Den Haag: Nationaal
A., Mundt, I. A., Feelgood, S., Hupp, E., Neutze, J., Ahlers, C. J., ... & Beier, K. M.
(2010). Potential and Dunkelfeld offenders: Two neglected target groups for
prevention of child sexual abuse. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 33(3), 154-163.