Meet the Pedophile Hunters, Committed to Catching Online Predators

Raz Hunter - a pseudonym - is rapidly making a name for herself as the scourge of online sex predators. She, along with husband Nash, heads National Child Protector, one of many groups in the UK committed to catching pedophiles who groom underage boys and girls via social media.

Kit Klarenberg
Couple of children © CC0
Raz's career as pedophile hunter began January 2017. The 39-year-old started off as a "decoy" for an organization similar to the one she runs today, posing as a 13-year-old, interacting with potential predators via social media apps and text messages.

"I was inspired to do it – and keep doing it to this day – because I've got children, and want them to be safe on the internet. The web is a terrible place for young people to be, infested with predators. However, the group wasn't as effective as I would've liked, so I decided to branch out for myself, along with my husband and a friend. We started National Child Protector (NCP), and started taking on decoys," Raz told Sputnik.

The results of Raz's efforts speak for themselves, she feels – in but six months of existence, NCP has helped catch 15 online predators, with many cases having already reached trial, and others nearing the courts, as of February 2018. Along the way, the group has grown to a strength of 25, roughly split half and half between decoys and "hunters".
NCP's Facebook Banner © Sputnik 2018
Grooming the Groomers
NCP's modus operandi is devilishly simple. They set up decoy accounts across a number of social media platforms, leaving them dormant until messaged – which, as Raz notes, often isn't very long at all. The first decoy account she set up got 77 friend requests in five minutes, and only one blocked her when she said she was 13 – "that's not to say every single other individual was a predator, but why would you want a 13-year-old to speak to online?" she asks.

NCP has a strict policy on what decoys can and can't say to targets – they don't ask direct questions, send pictures of a sexual nature or engage in lewd chat, and even emojis and x's are off the table. It's vital decoys appear naive and innocent at all times, and don't say anything that could be classed as "leading or enticing."

"Entrapment is something we simply don't do. If a target asks a decoy to "touch your p****", the decoy will respond "what do you want me to do to the cat?" – if the decoy receives photos of a target's private parts, the decoy will ask "what's that?". Our goal is to build a dossier of evidence, suitable for an arrest and conviction. How long that takes varies from case to case, but sometimes we can get a sufficiently incriminating chatlog in a just week," Raz notes, a tone of despair in her voice.

Decoys themselves rarely join hunters on the eventual "sting" – sometimes they want to, though. For instance, one NCP decoy has been talking to a pedophile for five months, and will be accompanying the group when they challenge the target – "she wants closure, it's really been a saga for her," Raz explains.

The exposure of truck driver Derek Abbott marks a recent success for the group. Another pedophile hunting team had built up an incriminating chatlog with the individual, but lacked direct experience of challenging predators in the flesh. NCP offered to execute the sting themselves, with the other group observing.

They eventually tracked Derek down to a lorry park. When they knocked on his cab door, they found him in flagrante, trousers round his ankles, sending pictures of his penis to their decoy. He's since been sentenced to 20 months in prison, and will spend the next decade on the sex offenders' register.

Another was Ricky Bradley, arrested late 2017 for attempting to groom two NCP decoys since September. In a sense, the group's sting in this case was premature – NCP would "never normally" have stung so early.

Ricky has been charged with six counts of child grooming, and is due to be sentenced March 1.
"There are many breeds of online predator – some are light groomers, complimenting a target's looks and asking them to be their girlfriend, while others are very extreme, sending links to hardcore pornography and vile photos, saying utterly obscene things. He was the first kind, but we wanted to move quickly. He was a repeat offender - in August 2017, he was given a 12 month suspended sentence for grooming. He was straight back to that less than a month later."
Raz Hunter
NCP Leader
Outpolicing the Police?
The work of pedophile hunting groups has proven controversial – with the public and authorities alike.

In 2017, UK police chiefs ordered local forces to crack down on such organizations, ordering officers not only not to work with such groups, but pursue them for criminal offenses, such as harassment, invasion of privacy and assault. Authorities apparently fear their activities will result in the diversion of significant resources into the protection of suspects, and allow exposed pedophiles to destroy evidence of their crimes before police can get to them. Sputnik contacted the UK Police Federation for comment, but is yet to receive a response as of February 2.

In response to official suggestions NCP and others like them jeopardize investigations, Raz argues their targets often aren't known to police, or are repeat offenders out on licence whose activities aren't being effectively monitored.

Nonetheless, NCP themselves have been served with cease and desist notices, telling them to back off – but what they're doing isn't illegal, and unless or until they remove the power of citizens' arrest, and/or ban people from filming in public places, she's determined they won't be stopped.

"Typically it's the people up top saying we can't be doing this – we regularly speak to officers on the ground who agree with what we're doing wholeheartedly, and we'd love to have a proper working relationship with police, with set standards groups must adhere to. We don't make a scene, our approach is to be very calmly and orderly. That's how it should be. Anyway, when all's said and done our work is great for crime figures – I don't get why the cops don't want to collaborate with us," she laments.

An answer to Raz's rhetorical query may lie in the case of David Baker, a 43-year-old pedophile who committed suicide in October 2017 four days after being confronted by hunter group TRAP.

He was detained by Hampshire police following the sting, but released on bail after two days, whereupon he took his own life. His family subsequently singled out TRAP for blame, saying the group had failed to consider the repercussions of their actions. Nonetheless, Raz is resolute, telling Sputnik the man's death was absolutely not TRAP's fault.
"That team asked police he be put on remand as he'd said he was suicidal already, as did his family – but he wasn't. If the police had caught him, he'd still have been put out on bail – and been able to commit suicide. Ultimately, what are we going to do as a nation? Sit back because we're frightened, and wait for the police to nab one or two?"
Raz Hunter
NCP Leader
To Livestream or Not to
A particularly controversial aspect of pedophile hunter groups' work is the "livestreaming" of stings – documenting their direct challenges to predators online as they happen, for the world to see.

The practice is widespread, but contentious even among hunter groups themselves. While some enthusiastically livestream, others don't – NCP once fell in the former category, but now the latter, at least for the time being.

In essence, it's an experiment to see whether the police will be more likely to work NCP – if greater cooperation isn't forthcoming, they'll start it up again.

"It's a tricky question. I recognize publicly exposing predators means people could take the law into their own hands. But still, there's a lot of value in it – without exposure, others a target has preyed on may not come forward. For example, one case, due to go to court February 14, involves a guy who had 11 different decoys working on him, from different groups. When we finally got him, it turned out he'd been seen outside school gates, harassed people on the street, and more. There's no hiding once we've done it – and they can't say we assaulted them, and are less likely to assault us," Raz told Sputnik.

"Less likely" is an important qualifier – NCP's activities put their operatives at significant risk of reprisal from exposed predators, and/or their associates. As a result, every member of the team uses a pseudonym, is prepared for the worst on stings, and stays vigilant whenever out in public and 'off duty'. To date, Raz has had just one brush with fate – a predator attempted to set his dog on her. However, luckily for her, and unluckily for the target, she's a dog handler by trade, and the canine in question was a "friendly" Akita, which "didn't know what it was meant to do."

Nonetheless, for NCP, such hazards are a price worth paying.

"Of course I worry about retaliation, especially as I have children of my own, but these are extremely dangerous people and I'm committed to getting them off the streets. Recently, another group stung a pedophile – when the police searched his vehicle, they found rope, condoms, all sorts. There are many cases of pedophiles grooming kids online then raping and murdering them. Some predators we speak to openly talk about wanting to rape children. Even just receiving messages like that damages kids for life. If I can stop that happening to anyone, I'll have succeeded," Raz told Sputnik.

Evidently, whether law enforcement officials like it or not, NCP and other groups of their ilk aren't going anywhere anytime soon – and evidence they gather is becoming increasingly significant in criminal cases.Figures show the proportion of English, Welsh and Northern Irish court cases using hunter group evidence rose from 11 percent in 2014 to 44 percent in 2016. In the first week of January this year alone, there were 56 arrests for online grooming based on pedophile hunters exposing them.

YouGov data also indicates 58 percent of the public support official police collaboration with groups like NCP, if it means more predatory sex pests are brought to justice.
"We're going to continue. The public want us to, and so do police officers. Forces are so stretched due to cuts these days, people like us need to pick up the slack, and do an important law enforcement can't do themselves. Predators simply cannot hide anymore."
Raz Hunter
NCP Leader
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