Teen scared after vigilante apparently uses her photo to lure predators
Published Tuesday, April 4, 2017 10:00PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, April 5, 2017 10:20AM EDT
A Toronto teen was shocked and frightened to find that an online vigilante was luring child predators with what appears to be a picture of her.
The teen says she didn’t give Justin Payne -- the first person in Canada to make a name for himself hunting pedophiles -- any permission to use photos of her in explicit chats designed to excite his targets.
“He’s hand-delivering them to the worst people in the world,” said the teen, whose identity CTV News is choosing not to divulge so as to not do further damage.
“He portrays these girls as stupid airheads. They don’t even spell right in these conversations. Someone’s going to see me and think, ‘She’s stupid, she’s vulnerable, I can take her if they see me on the street.”
Payne is part of a wave of vigilantes who are taking justice into their own hands. They pose as vulnerable girls and boys to see who will approach them for sex. Then they use chats with those people to arrange online confrontations.
Under the brand “The Payneful Truth,” Payne has dozens of video confrontations with his targets on a YouTube page that have a reach of millions of views.
He has been featured in a major documentary and his antics have inspired others across the country to use similar tactics. A W5 investigation questioned whether those “Creep Catcher” networks were doing more harm than good.
But Payne denies the picture is of that specific teen, who is the daughter of an ex-girlfriend. He says he’s using photos of two girls who have given him permission.
“I’ve been using the same photographs for well over, well, almost three years. I have consent for that,” he said.
Payne does not post screenshots of his chats publicly without blacking out profile pictures.
But CTV News has obtained screenshots of chats without the photos blocked. There seem to be at least seven different girls used in the screenshots.
Payne believes those could be elaborate fakes designed to discredit him.
The story of these photos came out through one of Payne’s favourite platforms: Facebook. When the teen wrote a comment on a public Facebook page about Justin, Payne’s former partner recognized her picture.
“Her pictures, I’ve seen all over his profiles,” said Gerry O’Brien. “She’s 17 years old. If he’s been using those pictures for the amount of time I’ve been with him she’d be 15 or 16. To me that’s exploiting an underage person.”
O’Brien had quit working with Payne already, and only had one photo of her from that time. But others who had worked with Payne put O’Brien in touch with the teen’s aunt, Lisa Gaudet.
Judging by the background and the type of phone in the picture, Gaudet told CTV News that photo could be older than that -- even when the teen was 12 or 13.
“That’s her, 100 per cent,” Gaudet said.
“God knows what they’re doing with her picture,” she said. “My biggest fear is for her safety,” she said. “He needs to stop.”
The teen and Gaudet made a complaint to Toronto Police last week. A spokesperson confirmed the force is investigating, and cautioned against people taking the law into their own hands.
“These investigations are best left to officers who are trained to conduct proper, evidence-based child exploitation investigations that follow stringent legal and ethical guidelines,” a spokesperson said.
CTV News showed O’Brien the other photos. He said he recognized some as having been used while he was working with Payne, but he wasn’t sure about others.
He said Payne had varying stories on the picture.
“I’ve heard two stories of the same girl. One is that the girl is a daughter of a friend who is now old enough and they had permission. The other story is that this girl is a friend who is now in her early 20s. The story changed a little bit,” he said.
Payne said he hasn’t yet been called by police. He told CTV News he believed that any screenshots obtained by CTV News could be elaborate fakes to discredit him.
“Someone could have made a profile, put that picture up, then screenshotted it and sent it to people to pretend that it was me that did it. It’s that easy to be able to falsify evidence like that,” he said.
The teen admitted that didn’t see eye-to-eye with Payne during and after her mother’s relationship. But she said she wouldn’t fake something like this.
“I don’t want to live the rest of my life in fear. I don’t want to get a job and hear someone say, ‘I’ve seen your picture on a website,’” she said.