Social media has become a breeding ground for the modern sexual predator. But it's also provided a platform by which investigators can pinpoint and apprehend these deviants. Justin Payne isn't a professional law enforcement officer, but he's made it his mission to rid his community of this abhorrent element. The hard-hitting documentary Age of Consent, produced with unflinching honesty by VICE News, introduces us to his controversial form of vigilante justice.
In the moonlit parking lots of Toronto's suburbs, Justin and his cameraman Gerry bury their heads in their cell phones. Together, they work to spark the interest of pedophiles by pretending they're young children between the ages of 11 and 14. The texts they exchange with these grown men inevitably turn flirtatious. Graphic photos are requested, connections are furthered through phone conversations, and face-to-face meetings are arranged.
Once they arrive at the meeting site, Justin and Gerry angrily confront each potential predator with the overwhelming evidence they have collected through phone calls and texts. They don't have the authority to initiate an official arrest, but they record each confrontation and post the resulting "gotcha" videos online for all to see. By shaming these offenders-in-waiting, the vigilante duo hopes to raise public awareness and thwart future instances of pedophilia in their community.
The police are well aware of their crusade, and look upon any attempts at operating outside of the law as more of a hindrance than a benefit. The community, however, seems to have embraced their efforts for the most part.
Seasoned throughout the film are the insights of Dr. James Cantor, a leading expert in the psychology of the pedophile. We learn that an unseemly attraction to children is usually the result of a cerebral anomaly that most pedophiles share.
We also discover what makes Justin tick. Growing up in a troubled and lonely environment, and finding himself the victim of constant bullying from an early age, he feels a special kinship towards those who undergo extreme abuse and isolation.
His quest to hold abusers accountable is littered with stomach-turning moments of despair and inhumanity. We hear him assume the identity of a young boy, and speak to one predator after another on the phone. The film pulls no punches by including every graphic detail of these calls.
Age of Consent is a tough watch, but it depicts a reality we can’t afford to ignore.