By contributor Shanon Fenske
Under the alias Robi Lawfull, a Nanaimo man has been administrating his own brand of justice online.
Posing as a young teenager, Lawfull lures adults who are trying to solicit children for sex online into meeting him at a public location, videotapes the encounter, and then shares the encounter through social media.
“I have the most beautiful little girl in the world,” said Lawfull. “That’s a huge motivation.”
Lawfull is a member of Creepcatcher, a small group of Canadians committed to ousting sexual predators through cunning and guile. The movement has been compared to American reality TV show To Catch a Predator by multiple news agencies such as CHEK News and CTV.
A man who calls himself Dawson Raymond started Creepcatcher in Calgary, Alberta in September. Since then, Raymond has posted two dozen videos of similar encounters on creepcatcher.ca. On the site—which redirects to dawraymond.com—Raymond lists Nanaimo, Victoria, and Saskatoon as having “partner” chapters—though only Nanaimo has content published. A post on Dawson’s Facebook account said that he personally trained Lawfull and that he’s proud of the job he’s doing.
Police have issued statements saying the encounters puts both parties, as well as the public, at risk of a violent confrontation, and could also impede existing investigations.
However, Lawfull said he has received, “No threats from the police, except to be careful.”
In a February 18 CHEK News interview, his face covered with a bandana, Lawfull said that it only took three hours for a man to want to meet for sex after he claimed to be 13 years old on a dating site. Similarly, in a 2015 Global News interview, Raymond said he had nine guys interested in meeting for sex within 20 minutes of posing as a minor.
CHEK News covered the first incident on February 17 after Lawfull’s footage went viral. In this video, Lawfull confronts a man in Woodgrove Centre. The predator can be seen muttering an apology as Lawfull tells him, “You’re done bud!” Lawfull also assures the man he is going to jail. He then loudly tells passersbys that the man was trying to have sex with the 13-year-old young girl he had posed as online.
The second video was published on Facebook on February 20. In this one, Lawfull confronts a man in front of VIU who expected to meet a 13-year-old boy. Lawfull can be seen accompanied by at least one other individual who antagonizes the deviant suspect as well. The male, who Lawfull said in the video is a student at VIU, limply protests his innocence.
Nanaimo recently received widespread media attention following two attempted sexual assaults on young teens. Both took place near downtown. The first occurred on December 3, when a man threw a 15-year-old girl to the ground. She screamed, a passerby came to her aid, and the suspect escaped. The second attack took place on February 12. The 14-year-old had her pants pulled down before the assailant ran away. Police arrested a 25-year-old man in connection to the second assault, and have said he is a person of interest in the first assault. Statistically speaking, there could be others that haven’t been reported.
According to stats posted on sexassault.ca, only six out of 100 people report a sexual assault (less for date rape). Statistically, one out of every four women in North America will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime, with 60 per cent of them being under the age of 17. Eleven per cent will sustain physical injuries. In 80 per cent of all cases, a friend or family member will have committed the assault.
Men like Robi Lawfull and Raymond Dawson target predators who seek underage targets online. These predators aren’t known to their intended victims, and prefer methods more subtle than those used against the women recently attacked in Nanaimo.
“The cognitive abilities of a 13-year old can’t process this,” VIU Child and Youth Care student Kortney Ashcroft said. “You can lure young kids in because they’re unassuming and innocent to the world.”
Ashcroft says she supports Robi Lawfull’s actions. “This guy is willing to risk his safety while trying to help others,” Ashcroft said. “One could argue that posting it is a violation, but, at the same time, who can really say what privacy can still be held after breaking this type of law. There would probably be people who disagree, but I believe, in this instance, this is okay because it alerts the public who the person is.”
The Criminal Code of Canada says that “luring a child” over the internet for sexual purposes can result in imprisonment of up to 10 years.
“I hope he’s not wrongly accusing anyone,” said Dallas Bezaire, Science and Psychology student, “but at the same time, that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. As long as he’s ridding doubt, he’s just outing them.”
Bezaire was aware of the videos, but hadn’t realized the incidents were taking place in Nanaimo, or that the movement had started in his hometown of Calgary.
“People should know who is a danger,” said Bezaire. “This is a mental illness, so it should be treated, but these people are acting on it, which is unhealthy and damaging.”
Lawfull says the support he has received has been overwhelmingly positive.
“People are interested in joining Creepcatcher from Campbell River, Victoria, Comox, Courtenay, and Duncan,” Lawfull said in a statement to CHEK News.
On the Creepcatcher site, bumper stickers are being sold for $10 saying, “You’re Done Bud!! Creepcatchers.ca.” Dawson Raymond posted on his Facebook page that there will be t-shirts for sale soon as well.
Lawfull says that since the news coverage, there have been fewer “creeps” online.
“I haven’t stopped and I don’t think I will,” Lawfull says. “Education for our kids is number one. And I would like to see funding for the RCMP for better investigations into child luring and online sex crimes, as well as community awareness into the dangers that live among us.”