‘John School’ for Scandal

May 4, 2007 10:44am

As part of a crackdown on prostitution, the Justice Department is spending $25 million on "John Schools," allowing men caught in prostitution investigations to avoid criminal charges and public exposure.  Wives and girlfriends never need to know. Instead in at least six major cities around the country, the men attend a three to six-hour course, where they are instructed on the dangers and harms of prostitution by former prostitutes, prosecutors and health officials. Photos A Day in the Life of a ‘John’ "This program is offered to help keep your record clean," prosecutor Marisa Mercandetti told a group of men this week at a John school called "Project Respect" run by the District Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, N.Y. The men pay a $250 fee, and the arrest is stricken from their record if they are not caught soliciting a prostitute again within six months.  In Brooklyn, prostitutes are also offered a six-week rehabilitative program to help get them off the streets. Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage. But in many parts of the United States, programs for women arrested on prostitution charges don’t exist, a discrepancy in punishment that is all too common, says Dr. Melissa Farley, the director of the Prostitution Research and Education Center in San Francisco. "What usually happens in prostitution stings is that the women are arrested. The women are incarcerated. The women are taken out in handcuffs," says Farley. "The men who buy and use women in prostitution slowly and quietly slink off." Dr. Farley says that while "John schools" could be considered a form of punishment, they still perpetuate the idea the crime is worse for the women selling than for the men buying. "It’s too minor a penalty for an act that I consider a human rights violation," she says. Dr. Farley says that usually a John will receive the same treatment as a jaywalker.
But in Brooklyn, prosecutors say they are equally as tough on the Johns as they are on the prostitutes. They say the John schools help curb the demand side of the prostitution business. "The DA believes that an effective way to deal with the ever growing problem of prostitution was to focus on the demand: the men paying for sex, the ‘Johns,’ which is all of you here tonight," prosecutor Mercandetti told the men attending class this week. During the five-hour presentation, the men listen to former prostitutes tell their stories of abuse and degradation, watch slide shows with graphic examples of sexually transmitted diseases and are reminded that solicitation of prostitution, while a misdemeanor, is still against the law. "No one here is your lawyer. We have not been retained to help you with any legal matters," warned Assistant District Attorney Mercandetti. "You only have one opportunity to take this program.  You only have one chance. The next time you’re arrested for patronizing a prostitute, there will be no program offered. You only have one chance from removing this charge from your record, and if you should commit this crime again, you will go to trial, and it will be a public trial." We want to teach you "respect for women, respect for the law, respect for the communities in which you were arrested and respect for yourselves and your family,"  she told them. The Kings County Sex Crimes Unit Chief Rhonnie Jaus says that in Brooklyn there is a very low recidivism rate for offenders who attend the school. Out of 2,000 participants, only nine have returned. "The Johns program is an alternative to incarceration," she says. Dr. Farley says it is important to establish that prostitution is not a "victimless crime" as is often the perception. "Prostitution usually involves the appearance of consent. For the woman who’s being bought, it’s an acting job," she says. "You don’t go into prostitution and risk HIV, rape and sexual assault just in order to go to a spa or get your nails done. There are more compelling factors, like economic need and a history of sexual abuse, that lead women into escort, or any other prostitution."

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