Newsweek: “A School for Johns”

An article from the July 24 issue of Newsweek shows, once again, that men’s attitudes and behaviors can be changed. San Francisco has a First Offender Prostitution Program that educates johns about prostituted women.

A School for Johns

…the day’s lineup at what is sometimes called “johns school” has a unique curriculum–a series of “scared straight” talks about the ills of prostitution mixed with some seriously graphic sexual-health education…

[Says San Francisco’s district attorney, Kamala D. Harris,] “To suggest that this is somehow an issue that only involves consensual adults, that’s just not true. No matter how these girls and women are packaged for sale, the reality is that for many of them, their life experience is often wrought with abuse and exploitation,” says Harris…

Harris says that programs like the johns school help sensitize those who buy sexual services to the true working conditions of sex workers–and refute the notion that many of them are in the business voluntarily. “It forces the john to deal with the reality of prostitution instead of their fantasy of what’s happening,” she says…

Jenna, a 33-year-old redhead, started working as a cigarette vendor at a club as a teen. She tells the men that she “didn’t start off wanting to be a prostitute” but that the attention she got from men at nightspots and a $200-a-day heroin addiction she developed helped propel her into that lifestyle. Soon, Jenna (who declined to provide her last name) would find herself homeless and infected with hepatitis C, the victim of repeated beatings by abusive clients…

…The San Francisco program shows it is possible to appeal to the customers’ sense of “empathy for those harmed,” says Michael Shively, a sociologist who reviewed the program for the Department of Justice, which provides some of its funding. Shively’s study [PDF], released in May, found that recidivism rates of those who completed “Johns school” were 30 percent less likely to be rearrested for soliciting sex than were men who did not opt for the program. And an earlier study of a similar program in Buffalo, N.Y., resulted in an 87.5 percent drop in the recidivism rate for attendees. Shively admits he was skeptical at first. “It didn’t seem realistic that one eight-hour day of talking at men would change their behavior,” he says. “Now I’m an advocate.”

See also:

PBS: “John Schools” (5/30/08)
They hear first-hand from former prostitutes, like Kira, about what life as a prostitute is really like. She tells them about the sexual abuse she endured as a child, starting at the age of 3, how she was paid for sex as a teenager, and became addicted to drugs. She recounts the violence and rape that many prostitutes experience while working on the streets.

“You can see in their faces that they were really impacted by the story of being abused as a three year-old child,” Kira tells NOW…

Kira, who now works to help prostitutes get off the streets, says at least 30 percent of all prostitutes in San Francisco are underage…

News Roundup: Age of Entry into Prostitution Declining

Dorchen Leidholdt, “Demand and the Debate”
As Norma Hotaling has demonstrated in her work to educate and deter
buyers and as the Swedish government has shown in arresting buyers,
while demand is essential to sex industry success it also represents
the weak link in the sex industry chain. Unlike prostituted women and
girls, prostitution customers do have choices to make. And when they
see that choosing to buy women devastates lives and threatens their own
freedom and social standing, they make different choices…

Media Watch: “Censored Truth”
“Other important steps are changing attitudes through education. Norma
Hotaling’s school for johns is proving to help with part of that
equation. The school allows first time offenders to remove the arrest
from their record if they spend a day in school. These men pay
approximately $500.00 to learn about the seriousness of second-offenses
and sexually transmitted diseases. Most importantly, during the seminar
former prostitutes tell them the truth about what it is like to be a
prostitute. Out of 900 participants only three have since been arrested
on similar charges. This school, which began in San Francisco, is being
replicated in Toronto, Portland, Oregon and scores of other cities are
considering joining them.”

How to Deter Johns from Buying Sex
One punter said: “You can buy a lot of things but you can’t buy your
reputation – losing your reputation is the biggest deterrent.”

…Men often used prostitutes in their lunch hour, some using company
cars, and the interviewees said getting their car impounded and their
company finding out would stop them…

…some 89% would stop using prostitutes if “named and shamed” on the sex offenders’ register.

Escort Prostitution: A Response to Tom Vannah, Editor of the Valley

Mr. Vannah concedes that “there is some percentage of people who are
not willing participants in the sex industry”, but believes that if the
Advocate refuses to accept Massage/Escort ads, this will unacceptably
crimp “artistic freedom”. He mentions Mapplethorpe pictures as an
example. How dropping ads for commercial sex enterprises will
compel the Advocate to turn away Mapplethorpe pictures is not clear to

While a few women may choose a life of prostitution in a truly
voluntary fashion, the reality for most is a history of sexual and/or
child abuse, separation from their family and/or country, and poverty.
Addictions to drugs or alcohol are common. They are routinely lied to,
coerced, abused, threatened, and blackmailed (e.g. ‘I’ll hurt your
family back in the Ukraine if you don’t cooperate’)…

Pornography Trains and Indoctrinates Prostitutes
a study of 475 people in prostitution (including women, men, and the
transgendered) from five countries (South Africa, Thailand, Turkey,
USA, and Zambia)…92% stated that they wanted to escape prostitution

Penn & Teller Think Nevada’s Brothels are A-OK
…Farley shows that life inside Nevada’s legal “pussy penitentiaries” is
far from safe, glamorous, or remunerative. The prostitutes are often
locked in. Many were sexually abused as children. Fines, tips and the
owner’s share typically cut into half the workers’ earnings or more.
“More than 80% of those interviewed told Farley they wanted to leave

Prostitution looks chic, but truth is ugly (Chicago Tribune, 4/27/08)
A comprehensive 2004 mortality study, funded by the National Institutes
of Health and conducted by the American Journal of Epidemiology, shows
that workplace homicide rates for women working in prostitution are 51
times that of the next most dangerous occupation for women (which is
working in a liquor store). The average age of death of the women
studied was 34.

Puncturing Alan Dershowitz’s Delusions about Prostitution
Levitt and Sudhir Venkatesh analyzed arrest records and sexual
transactions in Chicago. Far from earning a thousand dollars an hour,
prostitutes typically receive $25-30 per hour. The risks of getting a
disease are high–condoms are used in only a quarter of tricks. The
average prostitute experiences one violent assault a month…

Sweden’s Prostitution Solution: Why Hasn’t Anyone Tried This Before?
In the fog of clichés despairing that “prostitution will always be with
us”, one country’s success stands out as a beacon lighting the way. In
just five years Sweden has dramatically reduced the number of women in
prostitution. In the capital city of Stockholm, the number of women in
street prostitution has been reduced by two thirds, and the number of
“johns” has been reduced by 80%…

In 1999, after years of research and study, Sweden passed legislation
that a) criminalizes the buying of sex, and b) decriminalizes the
selling of sex. The novel rationale behind this legislation is clearly
stated in the government’s literature on the law:

“In Sweden prostitution is regarded as an aspect of male
violence against women and children. It is officially acknowledged as a
form of exploitation of women and children and constitutes a
significant social problem… gender equality will remain unattainable
so long as men buy, sell, and exploit women and children by
prostituting them.”

…Today, not only do the Swedish people continue to overwhelmingly
support their country’s approach to prostitution (80% of people in
favor according to national opinion polls), but the country’s police
and prosecutors have also come around. They are now among the
legislation’s staunchest supporters. Sweden’s law enforcement community
has found that the prostitution legislation benefits them in dealing
with all sex crimes, particularly in enabling them to virtually wipe
out the element of organized crime that plagues other countries where
prostitution has been legalized or regulated.

The Guardian, “Eradicate the oldest profession”
why should we take away the livelihoods of women in prostitution? I
hear this time and again from those who hand out condoms and clean
needles to women on the street and put little effort into helping them
escape. Many women support the Swedish law, because it has given them
an incentive to ask for support to get out of the sex industry. If the
UK, like Sweden, provided readily available drug and alcohol
rehabilitation, safe housing and protection from pimps then most women
would leave prostitution…

Those hoping to see the government
support decriminalisation of brothels will be disappointed by the Home
Office review, as will those advocating tolerance zones. Where such
zones have been tried they have failed. One zone in Melbourne resulted
in street prostitution increasing fourfold. In Amsterdam drug dealing,
trafficking and violence towards the women and customers in the zone
led to it being closed in 2003…

The Village Voice Earns $80,000/Month from Prostitution, Sex Trafficking and other Adult Ads (explicit language)
[prostitutes] have good help, it is very possible to recover,” [Dr.
Patrick Carnes, a sexual disorders specialist,] says. “The biggest
problem is lack of resources.”

…In terms of social programs
and community education, Mitchell believes prostitution is where
domestic violence was 15 years ago. She wants to educate people about
the reality of prostitution as she knows it…

“[The police]
believe women are more of the problem,” Mitchell says. “They don’t
quite get it yet that if they get rid of the men customers, the women
aren’t going to be there because the money won’t be there.”

Male Attitudes about Rape Can Be Learned…And Unlearned
The results of a “Sexual Attitudes Survey”, conducted several days
after the screenings, indicated that viewing the sexually aggressive
films significantly increased male but not female acceptance of
interpersonal violence and tended to increase rape myth acceptance…

is now, however, some evidence that these negative changes in attitudes
and perceptions regarding rape and violence against women not only can
be eliminated but can be positively changed. Malamuth and Check (1983)
found that if male subjects who had participated in such an experiment
were later administered a carefully constructed debriefing, they
actually would be less accepting of certain rape myths than were
control subjects exposed to depictions of intercourse (without a
debriefing)… These debriefings consisted of (1) cautioning subjects
that the portrayal of the rape they had been exposed to is completely
fictitious in nature, (2) educating subjects about the violent nature
of rape, (3) pointing out to subjects that rape is illegal and
punishable by imprisonment, and (4) dispelling the many rape myths that
are perpetrated in the portrayal (e.g., in the majority of rapes, the
victim is promiscuous or has a bad reputation, or that many women have
an unconscious desire to be raped).

The effectiveness of the
debriefing…indicated that even after seven months, subjects’
attitudes about sexual violence showed significant positive change
compared to the preparticipation levels.

…if effective
debriefings eliminate these negative effects, it would seem possible to
develop effective “prebriefings” that would also counter the impact of
such materials. Such programs could become part of sex education
curricula for young males. Given the easy access and availability of
many forms of sexual violence to young males today, such programs would
go a long way toward countering the impact of such images.

Pornography and Male Sexuality
particular incident was reported in the men’s jail during the Diablo
Canyon anti-nuclear blockade. While most of the activities had a strong
feminist consciousness, once 800 men were separated into the prison and
prison authorities distributed pornographic literature along with other
reading material, “that atmosphere began to disintegrate,” as one of
the participants put it. His account continues: “Some courageous and
concerned men began to see what was happening and, within a few days,
succeeded in changing the jail environment back to something very close
to what it had been in the camp itself [prior to the blockade].”