Between the Lines / Oh, Lolita!

There is nothing poetic and sophisticated about the men whom the Channel 10 cameras exposed this week, only the abysmal wretchedness of a person caught in the iniquity of his attempt to commit an unforgivable sexual crime.

"Legally, I'm not allowed to be your boyfriend, but the law will not tell me whom to love. I would spread your legs open ..." - Eyal Dura, one of the men who fell into Channel 10's "pedophile trap" during an Internet chat with an investigator pretending to be a 13-year-old girl.

"The nymphean evil breathing through every pore of the fey child that I had prepared for my secret delectation, would make the secrecy impossible, and the delectation lethal. I should have known ... that nothing but pain and horror would result from the expected rapture" - Humbert Humbert, the protagonist of Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita."

There is no resemblance at all between Eyal Dura's direct Internet text and Humbert Humbert's poetic, literary text, but in fact they say the same thing. Both men know that they are enslaved to their lust, both of them place themselves above the law in the knowledge that they are endangering themselves (but without thinking for a moment about their victims), and both of them excuse their crime in self-righteous romantic terms.

Humbert, a man of 30-something, addresses the readers, his jury, in order to confess his criminal relations with Lolita, a girl of 12 (and, in fact, to experience them anew). Nabokov shaped a complex and manipulative character of a pedophile with no conscience, an egoist with a perverted soul, who with the help of a brilliant and sophisticated defense that depicts him as the helpless victim of a spectacular perversion, succeeds in bringing the readers into his complex and troubled world, and manages to arouse a confusing mixture of identification and loathing.

The protagonist begins his confession thus: "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul." His sin is his soul. Without it his life has no point. And then:

"Between the age limits of nine and 14 there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is demoniac) ... There must be a gap of several years, never less than 10 I should say, generally 30 or 40, and as many as 90 in a few known cases, between maiden and man to enable the latter to come under a nymphet's spell."

In his own eyes, Humbert is a "bewitched traveler," that is, a victim of the "demoniac," unnatural nature of the "nymphet," aged between nine and 14. She, too, is guilty: From the moment of the fateful encounter between her enchantment and his perversion, his fate is cast.

There is nothing poetic and sophisticated about the men whom the Channel 10 cameras exposed this week, only the abysmal wretchedness of a person caught in the iniquity of his attempt to commit an unforgivable sexual crime. "The law will not tell me whom to love," wrote Dura, who should have said "what to love." The figure on the other side of the chat is not human; it is just an object intended to satisfy his needs. Nevertheless, Dura and his like arouse mixed feelings of loathing and pity, just like Humbert, although for other reasons. On the one hand you know that they are miserable wretches who have no conscience, who are trying to get their satisfaction at the expense of helpless young girls. For a moment you applaud the journalists who hang them on the gallows of public shame.

On the other hand, you cannot escape the feeling that this is a manipulative television show in the guise of investigative journalism. Is it an authentic reflection of reality? Not necessarily. True, the Channel 10 people are well-covered in terms of the law - they saw to it that their undercover investigators would be entirely passive and would not seduce or tempt the men into committing any crimes. But as Humbert learned personally, when you meet a "nymphet" of 13, the witchery works on its own, from the very fact of the demoniac presence. Thus the line between passive seduction and active seduction becomes entirely blurred.

Unless I'm mistaken, "Lotem13" told her hunters that her parents were not at home and even gave them her address. Is there not even a smidgen of seduction here? Would a real girl of 13 behave like that? Most unlikely. Chances are that she would not have gone into a chat room in the first place with anonymous men who make direct sexual advances to her, and brandish pornographic materials in front of her. In this sense, at least, the masquerading investigators did not behave like an ordinary 13-year-old girl and they made it very easy for the men.

The packaging of the investigation only sharpened my doubts. The docu-activist technique, including the use of a hidden camera, caused the men to come across as victims of an aggressive ratings machine that crushes them (and their families) in full public view, and leaves them no chance of escaping the trap. The laws of the genre have created an unequal situation between the hunted and the hunter, between very powerful television and wretched and humiliated men, in which only one side can win. This is not exactly the way the law should be enforced, even when it comes to pedophiles.

The hunted men's sense of guilt was so strong that none even tried to rebel against the trick being played on them. Guilty in advance, they cooperated, in the lowest of spirits, with the interrogation by Dov Gilhar. They submitted to his lashings and admitted their weakness, if not their criminal intentions.

"Why did you come?" Gilhar asked one. "My mistake," the defeated man replied. Even Humbert, with all his literary virtuosity, could not have formulated a more sophisticated answer. Unlike him, these men were not given a real stage on which to present their defense, to share their distorted world with the viewer and to ask for his understanding. Television is only happy to provide them with this platform after they have been tarred and feathered in the city square. In the meantime, the viewer must summon great strength in order to recall the wider context of the spectacle, and remind himself who the good hunters are and who the bad hunters are here.

Ultimately, when forced to weigh the pros and cons of the investigation, it is hard to take a firm stance. The situation is too complex. To Channel 10's credit are the very exposure of the phenomenon, the increased awareness among parents and children of its dangers, and the renewed deterrence of pedophiles on the Internet. ("From today, every man who enters a chat room should know to be afraid," as Miki Haimovich summed up the discussion on "London and Kirshenbaum.")

But along the way, the channel crossed a number of lines that should separate investigative journalism from voyeuristic/pornographic entertainment, between performing a public service and violating the guidelines of justice, and between documenting reality in its full context and magnifying it into monstrous dimensions.

It must be remembered that most of the cases of sexual abuse of children take place within the family and in its immediate vicinity. It is true that the Internet creates an illusion of a pedophiles' paradise, but the truth is that they are more exposed to risk there than in any other arena, because their on-line activity is documented. They do not need Channel 10 to know that "nothing but pain and horror would result from the expected rapture."