Prop. K and its call
to end John School-Report by Myra Snow
Proposition K, San Francisco's November ballot will contain a Measure
calling for the decriminalization of prostitution (see
Proposition K language). This Measure was based on the work of
a coalition of sex worker advocates and decades of sex worker rights
advocacy in San Francisco. This paper addresses to one section of
Prop K, referring to the First Offenders Program, which has two components,
one for those arrested as prostitutes and one for those arrested as
customers, also known as the "John's School."
Referring to Prop. K's demand is in its Section 4:.
"Section 4. Prostitution Shall Be Decriminalized.
The San Francisco Police Department, San Francisco County Office of
the District Attorney, the SAGE Project, Inc., nor any other agency
of the City and County of San Francisco or their designates, shall
not subject sex-workers to life long economic discrimination associated
with having a criminal record. The City and County of San Francisco
shall not support either economically or through legislation the "First
Offenders" program or any similar intentioned program that forces
sex workers into re-education programs. Furthermore, the City and
County of San Francisco, its agencies, departments, representatives
and their designates shall not profit from the criminalization of
prostitution, or from anti-prostitution programs such as the "First
Offender" program where costs are assessed and collected, then split
by the participating agencies. "
An important part of the Measure's demands is the elimination of so-called
"First Offender Prostitution Program" (FOPP) in San Francisco. The
FOPP in San Francisco is administered by a non-profit, partly publicly-funded
organization called SAGE (Stand Against Global Exploitation). (See
Appendix SAGE funding)
SAGE's FOPP includes "John's School," an "end demand" componen,
which offers a daylong curriculum for detained prostitution clients.
(The FOPP also has various programs to "rehabilitate" and "re-educate"
detained prostitutes and divert them into other occupations.
Why is the abolition of FOPP a central part of Proposition K's decriminalization
demand? I will focus on the "John's School," component of
the FOPP because that is the part of FOPP addressed by a two-year,
federally funded audit released in March, 2008, and that is the most
law-enforcement-intensive aspect of the FOPP (the "John's School"
clients are obtained through police "reverse sting" operations, with
a female police officer posing as a prostitute).
Opponents of Prop. K cite the supposed effectiveness of "John's
School" in reducing recidivism: an official letter from the San
Francisco DA's office opposing Prop. K states of the First Offender
Program, "This program is proven to reduce the demand for prostitution
. . . According to a recent, two-year federal evaluation, since 1995,
the First Offender Program has reduced prostitution recidivism by
30% among its more than 6,000 participants" (p. 2, 7/23/08 Letter
from Lenore Anderson, Asst. District Atty., SF, to Mr. Arntz).
These cited "recidivism" statistics may attempt to comprise both prostitutes
and johns; as a look at the cited audit shows, the effect of john
school on re-arrest (recidivism) of clients, insofar as the auditors
are able to assess it, is nowhere near 30%. See the audit itself:
Shively et al., Final Report on the Evaluation of the First Offender
Prostitution Program Grant #2005-DD-BX-0037 March 7, 2008, hereafter
"Shively"online at http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/222451.pdf
This report on the FOPP was written by a group called Abt. Associates
for the National Institute of Justice under contract with the US Department
Again, why is ending the FOPP and its "end demand" program
central to decriminalization as called for by Prop. K?
Starting from the Measure's basic premises:
CRIMINALIZATION is bad for prostitutes--it increases their vulnerability
and hardships and does not lead to helpful support for those who are
genuinely vulnerable and coerced.
Criminalization is partly fueled by local pressure from neighbors
who want to get rid of the business and the problems it brings, but
criminalization simply moves prostitution around to different areas
and/or drives it inside/underground.
Since the passage of anti-trafficking acts, anti-prostitution activities
have been conflated with anti-trafficking efforts which are focused
on finding and rescuing (mostly) women and children who are sexually
exploited against their will. The funding for many local anti-prostitution
task forces is now partly provided by US Department of Justice funds
which require anti-trafficking and "end demand" projects
be carried out. All the research strongly shows that anti-prostitution/anti-trafficking
law enforcement work has NOT resulted in a helping more than a handful
of actual sex trafficking victims according to US Department of Justice
The writers of Proposition K, backed up by a great deal of research,
argue that in San Francisco, the power and coercion brought to bear
by law enforcement is applied unequally (for example, against Asian
massage parlors and street prostitutes and NOT against the owners
of strip clubs). This, the Prop K authors assert, is counter to the
mandate set out by the San Francisco Task Force on Prostitution: namely,
to help those who are truly victimized (see
Proposition K). The authors of Prop. K further argue that officers
of the law use their power corruptly to bust or threaten people in
order to extort favors.
The opposition to "John's School" is part of the opposition
to criminalization of prostitution. As argued by the authors of Prop.
K, criminalization of prostitution is based on a hypocritical moralistic
"anti-sex" stance: it blames and punishes prostitutes and their clients
for the existence of a systemic institution. Anti-prostitution's anti-trafficking
aspects imagine that all sex workers are victims without choice and
large sums are expended to harm vulnerable migrant sex workers. Further,
the policing of prostitution does nothing to help and plenty to hurt
those people who truly are living under coercion and exploitation.
FOPP 's "END DEMAND"
"End demand" programs are aimed at detaining and "re-educating" clients.
They are often presented in the public realm as progressive alternatives
to conventional policing of prostitution in that they extend punishment
to the client as well as to the prostitutes themselves. It is generally
conceded that prostitution busts result in a "revolving door" in which
the same prostitutes are arrested over and over, sometimes within
the same day (see Shively Chapter 1). Proponents of end demand programs
argue that by attacking the "demand" side of the industry, illegal
activity will be diminished.
The john school in San Francisco is administered by SAGE jointly with
the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) and San Francisco District
Attorney's office (SFDA). This program (to quote from Shively, Chapter
"began operating in San Francisco in 1995. The program introduced
several innovations in the effort to combat commercial sex and human
trafficking for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE)"
[NOTE: in the view of SAGE, a non-profit NGO, and of its founder Norma
Hotaling, all commercial sexual activity is by definition coerced;
the term for all sex work within the FOPP is thus "Commercial Sexual
Shively on john school:
"The key innovations include (1) developing a one-day, broad-spectrum
educational program for consumers of commercial sex, and (2) using
revenue from fees paid by arrested consumers of commercial sex to
fund programs supporting survivors of commercial sexual exploitation.
In the FOPP, arrestees meeting eligibility criteria are offered a
diversion option in which prosecution can be avoided by paying a fee
and attending a class about commercial sex and human trafficking.
The classroom component of the program is designed to deter men from
pursuing commercial sex by educating them about the legal, health,
and crime victimization risks inherent in the activity. The classes
are also intended to reduce the motivation for involvement in prostitution
by building empathy for the providers of commercial sex and for the
John school for men involves offering qualified detainees the choice
of paying a fine (sliding scale up to $1,000) and attending a one-day
class as an alternative to conventional punitive measures. The solicitation
citation remains on the john school client's record for one year.
If, after one year, the client has not been re-arrested for a similar
offense, the record of his arrest is expunged. The fees are split
three ways between SAGE, the SFPD, and the SFDA. This fee-splitting
is seen as profit-driven criminalization by the authors of Proposition
K. Prop. K, Section 4 reads, "the City and County of San Francisco,
its agencies, departments, representatives and their designates shall
not profit from the criminalization of prostitution, or from anti-prostitution
programs such as the "First Offender" program where costs are assessed
and collected, then split by the participating agencies."
As the language of Prop. K implies, the fee-splitting arrangement,
which helps keep SAGE and the City's anti-prostitution enforcers afloat,
seems inherently corrupt and contains built-in incentives to continue
and to escalate the criminal prosecution of prostitutes for motives
other than the general welfare or the "rescue" of victims.
End demand's john school component furthers law enforcement activity
against prostitutes and their business. In order to procure clients
for john school, would-be johns must be busted. John school clients
are procured through "reverse sting" operations by the police, in
which a female police officer poses as a prostitute.
Obviously, from the point of view of prostitutes trying to conduct
business, this law enforcement activity brings increased surveillance
(thus increasing the prostitutes' vulnerability to law enforcement
coercion) and a climate of fear and harassment.
Furthermore, the public bears a significant financial burden because
reverse stings are quite expensive--see Shively, Chapter 5, "Assessing
"The estimated costs of the FOPP vary greatly depending upon which
of these activities are considered to be part of the program. For
example, reverse sting operations are the most labor intensive and
costly activities, and the program is highly dependent upon them since
all program participants are supplied by a process starting with the
vice unit operations. "
For details see Shively Table 24, " Direct Costs of John School Classes:"
"The median labor cost of reverse sting operations (usually involving
three to five officers during the street operation, spanning approximately
two hours for the operation itself and another two hours for setup
and report writing) was $2,142 (see Appendix Q for details). The mean
cost per john arrest was $356, and per FOPP participant was $896.
When offset by the fee revenue received by SFPD, the average net cost
for police operations that place offenders into the FOPP was $418
per participant. Over the life of the FOPP, it has cost an estimated
$3,516,479 for SFPD reverse stings. Close to one third of those costs
were recovered through the SFPD's share of fee revenue ($1,047,706).
OUTCOME OF JOHN SCHOOL CURRICULUM and POSSIBLE USEFUL DATA GATHERED
For all this money and effort, what is accomplished by sending a john
to john school?
Obviously, from the point of view of prostitutes and their supporters,
there is no advantage in discouraging clients, and driving away common
clients and driving prostitution deeper underground may make engaging
in the trade more dangerous.
But since reduction in recidivism is claimed as a great achievement
of the john school, let's examine what was found.
In 2006, in the initial design phase of its study, Abt. Associates
reported that "SAGE reports a two-percent one-year recidivism rate
What did the Shively study find? In its Appendix H, the Shively study
complains that they lacked any reliable baseline comparative data
that could be used to compare the recidivism rate of john school graduates
to that of detained clients who did not attend john school. Throughout
their report, they site findings of previous studies which all conclude
that john school has no measurable impact on recidivism, partly because
re-arrest of prostitution clients is rare to begin with, and partly
because of lack of baseline comparative data.
Nonetheless, Shively et al. take many pages to compute, using various
methods, what can be concluded about the recidivism rate of john school
participants. Though an actual percentage rate is hard to find in
their data (see Appendix Q, Recidivism Analysis Technical Appendix),
the audit's authors declare john school "significantly" reduced re-arrest
within a one-year time frame, using "fuzzy" comparisons with a flawed
database of non-john school johns.
Shively et al puzzle over the possible reasons for this effect, since,
in their words, the program does not adhere to established "best practices"
of rehabilitation (due to lack of follow-up, lack of takeaway materials,
scattershot and inconsistent information, etc.). They conclude a reason
the john school affects recidivism may be police method tip-offs.
"Although not listed as a core component of the curriculum, we observed
several classes containing a section on policing prostitution. The
sessions focused on police surveillance of all types of commercial
sex (street, brothels, escort services, massage parlors, storefronts,
and web-based), and are intended to provide participants with the
impression that they will stand a great chance of rearrest if they
continue involvement in any type of commercial sex"--in other words,
as they surmise, the johns learn how to evade apprehension.
While Abt Associates claims that "despite its long history and positive
profile, there has been no comprehensive study of the methods or effectiveness
of FOPP," the FOPP has in fact been researched. A prior study found
no basis for claiming that the FOPP helps to protect prostitutes,
or that it reduces prostitution activity, or that the data yielded
by studying FOPP participants is sound.
This study was lead by researcher Martin Monto of the Univ. of Portland
and focused largely on the San Francisco FOPP. like Abt Associates,
Monto was funded by the National Institute of Justice (the research
wing of the Dept. of Justice) to study prostitutes and their clients.
San Francisco FOPP was a major focus of his study. (Monto, M., Focusing
on the Clients of Street Prostitutes: A Creative Approach to Reducing
Violence Against Women, final report submitted to the National Institute
of Justice, Washington, DC: 1999 (NCJ 182860), available at www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/182860.pdf.)
Monto concluded in his 1999 report, "7) While intervention programs
demonstrate low rates of recidivism, this is not a good measure of
program success. Because it is easy to avoid arrest given adequate
knowledge, re-arrest is rare among prostitution clients whether or
not they participate in intervention programs." Monto also made the
point that the lack of baseline comparative data made recidivism computation
COULD JOHN SCHOOL HELP PROTECT PROSTITUTES? Another purpose for studying
john schools has been to see whether, from data gathered on prostitutes'
clients, it is possible to determine which clients may be dangerous.
Prostitutes have the highest rate of assault and homicide of any group
of women in the US (source).
Writing in NIJ Journal No. 255, Nov. 2006, Natl. Institute of Justice
Social Science Analyst Marilyn C. Moses examined Monto's work to see,
for one thing, whether the data gathered at john schools could help
single out those clients who are dangerous. Moses writes that Monto's
1997 NIJ-funded study used a questionnaire to explore the "types of
sex-related behavior characteristics of men who solicited prostitutes."
Monto found nothing to disprove the consensus that male prostitution
clients are demographically indistinguishable from the general male
population, but weakly speculated that those clients who hold the
highest number of "rape myths" MAY be the dangerous ones.
In short, Monto's study showed that john school is not a useful tool
for addressing the very urgent problem of violence against prostitutes.
In the recent study, Shively et al's research materials include voluntary
questionnaires to be filled out by the FOPP participants prior to
and after their one-day FOPP training. The questionnaires attempt
to capture information about the characteristics of prostitutes' clients
and the effects of the training on their attitudes toward women. But
in the absence of comparative data (on clients who do not choose john
school over prosecution, or clients who are not apprehended, or clients
who decline to fill out the questionnaire), the data is practically
(Further, as Shively et al. comment, the circumstances, setting and
desire to please probably influenced the way the men filled out the
THE PREMISE OF JOHN SCHOOL: ALL PROSTITUTES ARE TRAFFICKED
In the "Program Logic" section of their report, Shively et al. report
some inconsistencies of the daylong course at john school, which features
presentations by ex-prostitutes who tell the johns that prostitutes
are victims who suffer through prostitution and that johns should
realize they are engaging in furthering this harm when they solicit
them. The johns are meant to develop empathy and remorse.
Shively etl al write,
"A key element in the curriculum (and in SAGE's general approach to
commercial sex) is the premise that most women and girls are coerced,
defrauded, or forced into commercial sex, and are exploited for the
commercial gain of others."
(In fact, federal anti-trafficking funds support SAGE's programs (see
Appendix). This conflation of prostitute with trafficking victim is
adopted by the Shively report writers themselves; after a four-page
prostitute literature "review" in which they lean heavily toward the
view of prostitutes as universally victims of coercion, begin to use
the term "trafficking victim" in place of "prostitute.")
Shively et. al's description of the this part of the curriculum continues,
"The message is conveyed that prostitutes have few options but to
continue to sell sex as long as they are commercially viable and generate
pimps and traffickers. Yet several of the former prostitutes who presented
in the john school classes were not pimped or trafficked, and one
said that she spent her entire 12-year career as a prostitute without
having a pimp. In some classes, one or both of the women providing
testimonials said they had worked without a pimp for some or all of
their "careers" as prostitutes. None of the women said they had been
trafficked to another city, state, or country. Based upon these presentations
by women who are, presumably, intended to be representative, the men
in these classes might conclude that few or none of the women on the
street are actually pimped or trafficked."
John school furthers the conflation of sex work with trafficking,
yet clearly is unable to make the case in real life.
The Urban Justice Center in New York's Sex Workers' Project critiques
end demand programs for making this conflation and explains that actual
trafficking victims are going unhelped because "law enforcement efforts
and resources to combat trafficking in persons are often diverted
to combat sex work. This is due to long-standing efforts of some advocates
and policymakers to conflate trafficking in persons and prostitution
as being the same thing. This conflation has resulted in a mis-direction
of anti-trafficking resources and an obscured focus. One consequence
of these efforts has been the recent call for "ending demand." Therefore,
current anti-trafficking efforts have become improperly focused on
targeting and prosecuting clients in the mis-guided hope that this
will decrease the incidence of human trafficking." /www.sexworkersproject.org/media-toolkit/downloads/20070330
In making the abolition of end demand programs a centerpiece of decriminalization,
Proposition K calls for a re-routing of anti-prostitution efforts
toward true anti-trafficking efforts, putting a stop to the profit
motive in prosecutions, correcting of distorted and demeaning views
and treatment of prostitutes and their clients.
APPENDIX SAGE's FEDERAL FUNDING and PROP K language
San Francisco's SAGE-administered programs benefit from
federally funded efforts to reduce sexual exploitation
and Human Trafficking. The 2007 list of Department of
Justice monies committed for efforts against Human Trafficking
reports that SAGE received $428,629 "for two-year training
and technical assistance project to build capacity of
selected governmental and non-governmental organizations
that address the needs of victims of commercial sexual
exploitation of children (CSE)." Additionally, $121,979
was awarded to SAGE to " conduct street outreach and offer
comprehensive service provision to trafficking victims.
They will also spearhead community networking and offer
training necessary to create a sustainable, diverse anti-trafficking
infrastructure." ("Appropriations 2007")
SAGE's website reports a "$1.25 million dollar federal
appropriation in 2003" for a program "focused towards
extending SAGE's capacity to serve women and girls in
the San Francisco Bay Area, and to solidify The SAGE Project,
Inc. local survivor-centered model for replication in
other municipalities throughout the United States." Though
unspecified as such, this award, in SAGE's view, supports
its efforts against human trafficking. SAGE's website
states, "this appropriation is making it possible for
SAGE to set the national standard-and share our experience
and learnings-for successfully curbing the powerful wave
of trafficking that forces women and girls into prostitution."
Some of these monies were dispersed under the 2005 reauthorization
of the Trafficking Victim Protection Act (HR972) requiring
the establishment of a federal grant program to "establish,
develop, expand, or strengthen" education programs for
"persons charged with, or convicted of, purchasing or
attempting to purchase commercial sex acts"