Not all ‘john schools’ are alike
“John schools” — diversion programs that seek to reduce prostitution rates by educating sex customers about the negative effects of their actions — typically follow the model set by San Francisco’s First Offender Prostitution Program. However, as the program spreads to new communities, it is implemented in different ways.
San Francisco’s First Offender Prostitution Program has been replicated or adapted in about 40 other cities over the past decade, including Seattle and Norfolk, Va. Participants in the three-month-old Seattle program are educated on the city’s prostitution laws and the legal ramifications of an arrest, the health consequences of becoming infected with sexually transmitted diseases, the risks and effects of prostitution on sex worker’s lives, neighborhood impacts, pimp trafficking, and resources for those with sexual addictions. Like the San Francisco program, the fees charged to Seattle johns pay for the cost of running the school. Seattle johns pay $150 for the class and another $1,000 that goes into a sex industry victim’s fund, putting the program at the top of the scale for fees charged to john school participants, which range from $0 to $1,000.
The high fees serve as a deterrent to recidivism, says Terri Kimball, division director of domestic violence and sexual assault prevention in Seattle’s Human Services Department. “[The program participants] get smacked hard [financially],” she says. Despite the costs, however, Kimball says most opt for the school because it erases a criminal charge from their records.
That is not the case in the Norfolk program, however. Maj. Mike O’Toole, chief officer of community corrections for the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office, says Norfolk’s john school enrollees receive suspended jail sentences, but their records are not expunged. “A lot of the program is educating [johns] that this is not a victimless crime. It’s a property values issue. It’s a quality of life issue,” O’Toole says.
Norfolk enrollees also are required to put in a full day of community service, often picking up trash and used condoms from the neighborhoods in which they were arrested. “It’s a shock type of treatment. You’ve got to get them to care or at least think about what they are doing,” O’Toole says.