Toronto’s self-styled “online predator” catcher Justin Payne had to take down his most recent and viral video from the Internet.
The video, in which Payne confronts an alleged pedophile at a subway station, had been viewed more than one million times. But, too many people recognized his target and began posting the man’s address and phone number.
Payne’s decision to remove the video from the web was something that contrasts with his goal to publicly shame men who troll the Internet for young girls.
“I’m literally on every dating app,” he said. “If it’s for adults, I’m on it. I’ll put up six photos I have. It’s of a 12-year-old. I’ll let them message me and I’ll inform them in the first one or two messages I’m a child. I’ll inform them of my age. It’s up to them to decline conversation or continue.”
He said he gets around 15 phone numbers a day and estimates he’s spoken with 10,000 people since he first started three years ago. Of those, he’s met 300 men who he said are alleged pedophiles.
“I believe we’re exposing fantasies of individuals. I believe many have that fantasy for younger people.”
It started as a social experiment; Payne said he wanted to see how prevalent pedophilia was in our society.
But he was soon hooked on the chase and began posting videos of his confrontations online. He began taking his evidence to police but he didn’t want to give up his computer and cellphone, which they requested, so the official investigations went nowhere.
READ MORE: Vigilante videos going viral
“I think what he’s doing is taking enormous risks,” said Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash. “We’ve asked him to turn over his devices and he hasn’t been willing.”
The police, at least outwardly, are not happy with his work. They have their own child exploitation unit which hunts alleged pedophiles every day.
Pugash said self-styled sexual predator hunters have no skills or training.
“What they appear to have is an unfocused outrage,” he said. “And it’s unlikely what they’re doing will lead to what a court can use to prosecute an individual.”
But Payne hopes to one day have a working relationship with police. Until then, he’ll continue to do what he does.
The vigilante trend, meanwhile, is quickly gaining steam.
An Alberta-based group calling itself Creep Catchers also pose as pre-teen girls online, setting up meetings with would-be dates and then confront them on camera. The group claims to have bureaus in 14 Canadian cities. Hacker group Anonymous has also targeted alleged online child porn sites and their users.
Payne’s style is controlled aggression.
After days of texting and occasional calls where Payne will disguise his voice, he sets up a meet in a public place. He has all of the texts readily accessible when he approaches his contact with his cameraman and security guard, Gerry O’Brien.
The targets, Payne told Global News, plead ignorance when he approaches them.
“All the time spent, all the things I’ve had to listen to, you’re not going to lie to me,” he said.
-With files from Will Campbell