Back To School: John School. No Trapper Keepers Needed.

Illustration for article titled Back To School: John School. No Trapper Keepers Needed.

John schools - a combination of shaming and education - tries to make johns feel like the criminals, for a change. Questions: Does it work? (And how much better an ending to Pretty Woman would that have been?)


John schools, or First Offender Prostitution Programs, have been around for more than a decade now. The impetus was obvious: after years of targeting only the prostitutes themselves and letting johns off with a fine and a slap on the wrist, it was clear that the system was not only unjust but wholly ineffective. And, the thinking went, wouldn't it be more effective to speak directly to the men perpetuating the system than prostitutes frequently impelled to the streets by addiction, desperation or pimps?

Now, there are about 50 john schools in America, with more set to open this year. Available only to first-time offenders - and not to those soliciting underage prostitutes - the programs rely on a combination of education and shaming. The Nashville program profiled on CNN is, for starters, in a church. The men hear the stories of former prostitutes to help them, as one advisor puts it, "see that this is not a victimless crime, and they are contributing to the exploitation of women"; are told the risks by health experts, and are assured by cops that if they're caught again, they'll go to jail. In the Nashville program, too, the offenders' mug shots are displayed on a public web site. They pay $250 which goes to a prostitute-rehabilitation program called Magdalene House - meaning there's no cost to the taxpayer - and the charge can, if all goes well, be dismissed after a year.

Results are somewhat encouraging: the established San Francisco program has seen a 30% drop in re-arrest rates. But critics say this isn't enough. Some feel it's still too light, compared to the jail terms prostitutes are often given. Others, that it doesn't address the violent offenders who are a more serious problem. The program only addresses street prostitution, as pointed out by a Village Voice piece on New York's version, "The Respect Project," "Uhu Thukral, director of the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center, says that johns who get caught just turn to escort services or Internet hookups. "John schools are part of an effort to address the demand side of the industry, but it's really just a revolving door," she says." And advocates of legalized prostitution, that it doesn't address the key issues. And, given that a recent study the article quotes finds that men would be far more deterred by being placed on a sex offender registry, some wonder why that's not the de facto punishment. Certainly, for programs that don't post an offender's picture, it seems a lot easier for a john to throw money at the problem and spend 8 hours in a classroom - which, after all, nobody needs to know about - than risk trial and jail time.

But if they learn something in that 8 hours, even just one guy, isn't that a lot better than the alternative? The CNN article quotes several men who are deeply shamed and affected by the presentation, however - at least, directly after seeing it - and it's hard not to want to support anything that can effect actual change on a human being. In a piece on a Canadian version of the program, one director observes that it's the presentation by a wife who's marriage was ruined by her husband's whoring - and subsequent STD - that's most compelling to the largely-married population. And, one hopes, that the existence of the classes themselves is a small step towards changing a long-standing double-standard. I'm not assuming the existence of 50 such programs in the country (really, very few - shouldn't this be standard?) is going to change the day-to-day treatment of prostitutes by cops - but at least it has the chance of changing one such interaction, which wasn't even a possibility before.

'John Schools' Try To Change Attitudes About Paid Sex [CNN]

John School Helps Break the Cycle of Prostitution [PERC]
John School Takes A Bite Out Of Prostitution [SFGate]
School for Johns [Village Voice]
Recidivism Among The Customers Of Female Street Prostitutes:Do Intervention Programs Help? [WCR]



Has anyone seen the documentary "Very Young Girls?" The opening scenes are all about girls, none of whom entered prostitution AFTER the age of 16 (most were 13 or so), talking about the abuse they suffered from their pimps and johns. Anyway, after all that there’s a scene that takes place at a lecture the johns have to go to. The cop there explains that their crime will not show up on any of their records, but that they can’t do it again because these girls are young and often sex slaves. One guy raises his hand after hearing this and says "When’s the break?" All the other guys laughed.

While I believe prostitution should be made legal, I think that scene is clear that we need to properly set the stage for it…