[trigger warning: pedophilia, child rape, abusers] My problems with To Catch a Predator
So i’ve been following dionthesocialist as he liveblogs “To Catch a Predator”…
I’ve always had mixed feelings about this show. Not because I don’t think those people deserve it, but because I worry about the way it sets precedent for entrapment and similar situations.
Obviously, a pedophile going to a person’s house expecting to rape a child is totally different from a pedophile who just looks up something online and doesn’t actively almost engage in harming someone else.
But the precedent is still troubling. Pedophilia is seen as a social wrong for damn good reason, yes, but there are things that, in the past, have been seen similarly—polygamy, cross-dressing, drinking, etc. None of these are comparable in any way to Pedophilia, of course. But back when drinking was viewed as sinful and as one of the worst crimes imaginable, you can bet that some people got entrapped in a similar way. Let’s make pedophiles who intend to harm others suffer, and suffer greatly— but should it be at the cost of other basic legal procedures that protect ordinary people? This is especially difficult considering how these basic protections are already overlooked when it comes to People of Color, trans women, and other disadvantaged groups.
On a social level, I don’t like TCAP because it is a very narrow lens. It does what pop culture discussion about sexual violence tends to do, which is overfocus on the singular actions rather than the long-lasting, pervasive effects which hurt people for the rest of their lives. Or, they totally ignore that abuse can and does happen systematically, at the hands of multiple people, or over a long period of time. It’s also 100% “stranger danger” and nothing about families or friends or teachers or cops or doctors or football coaches doing these things.
There’s barely anything out there which looks at how people survive AFTER these things. There’s equally few portrayals of sexual abuse or rape that go beyond the same old tired tropes that fail to include the experiences of a significant portion of survivors out there. I guess those stories aren’t exciting or interesting enough, or they are too gritty and ugly for a wider audience to talk about.
TCAP is along those lines. And, maybe even more dangerously, it doesn’t really encourage any critical thinking about why these things happen. It simply gives us this tiny, cloistered look into a reality that we do not want to even deal with. Just as there’s nothing about survivors after their abuse, there’s also very little that helps us understand how predators got to where they are.
All the show does is give people the equivalent of gratuitous violence in movies— you enjoy seeing people suffer and then afterwards there’s not much that has changed. In a throwaway summer blockbuster that’s okay, but this is real life, and people end up in these dangerous situations every day.
This show is like a cultural release for all of our inconsistent tensions around sexual violence: we all know that these predators are out there, and we all know that rape and child sexual abuse happen. But no one really wants to talk about it or ask WHY. A show like this becomes popular because we come away with a happy, feel-good feeling that these terrible monsters are being imprisoned and punished for what they do.
Before these predators are caught, we are noticeably uncomfortable with their actions and the way they think. But it wraps up so cleanly that no one turns off the TV at the end with the thought, “What can I do to stop these things?” Even less people think, “What can I do help those who have dealt with this?” Instead of shock at how these people live right among us, we are reassured with, “don’t worry! the good guys will catch them and keep everyone safe.” It’s a guilty pleasure that sucks up our moral and communal disgust about these things and lets us express our feelings without actually doing anything to stem the cause of them*. That’s dangerous— we need as much anger and rage and personal discomfort and disgust as we can get if we are going to change this. To let that go to waste is a real shame.
Let’s also not forget that although the victims should be the focus here, the show ultimately centers around the people who deserve the least amount of attention— the predators.
*I know there are survivors out there who watch this show, and maybe it helps them feel empowered by being able to participate in that rage and watch abusers suffer from a safe distance. But the show is meant for a general audience, and not everyone has that same understanding.
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- lavenderlabia said: This critique is amazing. <3
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