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A female police officer poses as a prostitute on Holt Boulevard in Pomona, CA.
“John” is the name often given to anonymous male customers of prostitutes, but many law enforcement agencies across the U.S. are beginning to reveal these patrons’ real names in an effort to curb criminal prostitution.
A majority of police officers maintain that outing and shaming those who pay for sex to be the most effective method for cracking down on the illegal act, according to survey data. Fresno, California, hosts a website called “Operation Reveal” that exhibits mug shots of suspected ‘Johns,’ while Oklahoma City has “JohnTV,” and in Arlington Texas, photos of suspects are literally plastered on highway billboards.
“Overall, about 60 percent of the communities that arrest the johns to begin with, in some way, release their identities,” said Michael Shively, a lead researcher to the study. “It’s only a subset of all those communities that are really doing it in an aggressive manner and with the specific intent of trying to either punish more severely, or to deter others from trying to buy sex.”
Shivley adds that some communities release identities as part of routine processing, while others take on a more aggressive approach.
These efforts do not go without criticism, as some say publicly humiliating possibly innocent suspects before they are given a fair trial could be particularly damaging to their well-being and inflict serious psychological harm to innocent family members.
Shivley says that while there’s no statistical evidence that shaming is effective, he says there is indirect evidence saying that it can work
“When asked what would deter them, known sex buyers say in surveys that being found out or being publicized is the thing they most fear,” said Shivley. “Most police officers will tell you the first thing that the men ask when they're getting arrested is 'Is my wife going to find out' or 'is my boss ring to find out'?"
How appropriate is this technique even if it is effective in curbing prostitution? Does it violate the rights of suspects?
Michael Shively, lead researcher on the study, National Assessment of Efforts to Combat Demand for Prostitution and Sex Trafficking recently released by the National Institute of Justice; Senior Associate, Abt Associates, a private research company focused on criminal justice, social science, public health among other areas of research