Vigilantism is a complicated issue, especially when it comes to the treatment of some of the worst offenders imaginable. Last night Channel 4 documented the efforts of 31 year old Stinson Hunter, a journalist based in Nuneaton, Warwickshire who has made it his life’s work to track down men who peruse on-line chat rooms looking for sex with under-age girls. Creating fake profiles of girls as young as eleven, Hunter and his team then work together to lure the would-be offenders to decoy houses in order to hand them over to the police.
Directed by Bafta-award winner Dan Reed, the documentary throws up some extremely interesting points of discussion about the nature of Hunter’s work but also serves as a revealing insight into the man behind the cause. Considering his own murky past which includes acts of arson and drug abuse, it seems justifiable to question the ethics behind his crusade. During the course of the film it emerges that one of his prey took his own life after being exposed in one of Hunter’s videos, which he allows the public full access to on his website.
Some would argue that given the behaviour of his subjects, not to mention the value of his evidence which has led to ten convictions so far, what do the particulars leading to their downfall matter? However, flawed or not, the legal system is made up of trained individuals who are evaluated not only on their professionalism but their psychological state. Sadly, this system seems to have failed Hunter long ago, as it is patently obvious to anyone watching that he has a shared history with the youths he is trying to protect. To his immense credit, the way he conducts himself when faced with his prey shows astonishing levels of self-control and when one man is seen to abandon the decoy house Hunter urges onlookers not to attack. Unfortunately, such is the understandable need for justice demanded by a society who feel threatened by sex-offenders on a daily basis, it’s not outside the realms of possibility that his work may inspire more aggressive acts of vigilantism in the future. Scenes which show information pertaining to the men in question being shared over fifty times in five minutes on Facebook certainly seem to suggest that he already has a strong following which will surely increase in the wake of this new exposure.
As the documentary draws to a close Hunter is seen reading letters from the authorities warning him to back down, threats which he duly dismisses, resolving to continue his quest to the bitter end. Perhaps this admirable display of self-sacrifice will spare unwitting minors the emotional ruin he himself could not avoid. Hunter sees his interviews with potential offenders as a way of holding a mirror up to allow them to come face to face with their own shame. Ironically, this same analogy also applies to the real law-makers.