BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — As the presence of social media increases worldwide there are more ways children can communicate with others online, including adults who are looking to have conversations many would find inappropriate. Law enforcement agencies are advising parents to talk to their children about what they see online.
Local law enforcement tells us while it is not illegal for these groups to exist and confront individuals, they warn dangers exist that civilians aren’t trained for. But despite law enforcement’s pleas, one Bakersfield organization feels the need to take matters into its own hands.
Mason Chapman is the man behind Prey Protectors. His online presence has grown after he caught the community's attention for his confrontations with adults who are under the impression they are speaking inappropriately to a minor online.
It starts with a post on social media, followed by message exchanges and then a meet-up. That’s when Mason Chapman demands answers.
“My biggest concern is why do you feel it’s appropriate to date someone that's 14 or 15 years old,” asked Chapman of one man he confronted.
Chapman says he was sexually abused as a child and started Prey Protectors to make sure other children don’t become victims.
“There's an overwhelming amount of men that they know the age of my decoy and they continue talking. It's very overwhelming.”
Bakersfield Police Department Sergeant Robert Pair says it's not illegal for these groups to pretend to be someone else to confront an individual as long as they're not doing it for defrauding purposes. But Pair says regardless, it's best to call law enforcement and provide all of the information without contacting the suspect.
“I believe these individuals' motivations are sincere and ultimately I have no issues with that. The issue ultimately is all of the things that could go wrong, have gone wrong and potentially open them up to whether its civil liability or criminal liability.”
But Lori Meza the Kern County Sheriff’s Office says there are dangers involved.
“It's just confronting but that can turn into a violent situation when you’re dealing with someone who you believe is committing a crime. This is a known criminal in your mind and you go and confront them. That is not the public's job and this is something that should be reported to law enforcement. You should call 911. That is a situation in which is not safe for a civilian to walk up and confront someone.”
Chapman says the majority of people he meets know what they're doing is wrong but doesn’t think sending them to jail is the answer.
“it's surprising how open freely they are with their issues. I try to make sure I ask them if they are on drugs or alcohol to see if its induced or even if it's past traumas. If they were sexually assaulted as kids and just to let them know it's a very vicious cycle. And if it happened to you and that's why you’re attracted to underage kids, why would you want to continue by making that kid have the same trauma and growing up and having the potential risk of having an attraction for kids.”
Chapman says parents should stay aware of the social media sites their children are on.
"You just have to be very upfront with your kids nowadays. You can try protecting them. Protecting them by sheltering them and thinking they will be good Disney kids is not going to be the way to go. You definitely have to reach out to them. There are these sick people out there and they will take advantage of you. They will come off sweet to you but they are snakes.”
The Kern County Sheriff’s Office says confronting someone is dangerous and can compromise an investigation. So instead, the best thing someone can do is gather information and call law enforcement so they can take proper action.