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

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 of Justice.

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 statistics.

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.


"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 1):

"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 Exploitation.]

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 inhabitants."

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 Costs":

"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). "


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 for participants."

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

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 almost meaningless.

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 meaningless.

(Further, as Shively et al. comment, the circumstances, setting and desire to please probably influenced the way the men filled out the questionnaires.)


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 money for

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." /



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.




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"


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