Written by Chelsea Moser, Second Life of Chattanooga Volunteer

As we think through how we can not only confront, but also prevent trafficking in our communities, one thing most of us understand to be important is “awareness”. We brainstorm “awareness” projects, launch “awareness” campaigns, achieve funding and support for events which we unabashedly claim are only for the purpose of “awareness”. We understand that this piece of activism is vital if any community is going to make a concerted effort to eradicate a crime that lives off insidious interweaving within various structures that already exist in that community. One way some communities have attempted to stem this crime’s flourishing is by going to the source of demand and attempting to open some eyes. This attempt, known in most places as “johns’ school” typically does not prevent consumers in the slavery economy from their first time committing the crime, but exists to prevent future indiscretions.

San Francisco opened one of the first johns’ schools, and more than 5,700 men have gone through the program since its inception in 1995. This particular program is known as “FOPP”, First Offender Prostitution Program, and is for men who have just received their first arrest for soliciting prostitutes. As an alternative to prosecution and the possibility of time in jail, these men can pay a $1,000 fee and attend an 8-hour session designed to educate them about the dangers of prostitution for both solicitors and prostitutes, as well as the truth about the real origins of many of the women who might be solicited and the reality of their forced servitude. The intention of the training, however, is not only to promote awareness of human trafficking and slavery, but also to encourage the “johns” to consider the reasons the rest of prostitution’s victims may have chosen that industry and the unanticipated abuse they may now find themselves trapped in as a result of that choice. Men are confronted by both survivors who tell tales of kidnapping and slavery, and survivors who tell tales of how their own brokenness and subsequent poor decisions were mercilessly exploited by the men who never stopped to think about the person on the other end of the business exchange that provided them with sex.

As former prostitutes share their stories and medical and law enforcement professionals share facts, attendees are forced to deal with the horror of the world of prostitution, and the role they play in perpetuating it. Johns’ school forces attendees to deal with the reality of what’s happening, instead of their fantasies of what’s happening. They are made to confront the truth that soliciting sex is not a victimless crime. By the end of the day, most men display strong emotional reactions of sadness and disbelief. This empathy is the central intention of johns school, and the theory on which this particular preventative measure entirely rests.

Happily, there is some evidence that this approach has real effects. A study in San Francisco found that those who completed johns’ school were 30 percent less likely to be rearrested for soliciting than men who opted out of the program. A study of a johns’ school in Buffalo, NY found that the education resulted in an 87.5 percent drop in the recidivism rate for attendees. These kinds of programs have now been established in more than 40 other communities throughout the US, including Washington, West Palm Beach, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, and Nashville.

There are those, however, who feel that johns’ school is, at best, useless, and, at worst, perpetuating a misguided approach to the problem. Many believe that attendees who got caught soliciting prostitutes in full view, will, after having to go through johns’ school, simply turn to escort services or internet hookups- that the demand side of the industry cannot be dismantled so easily. As most johns’ schools, however, are entirely paid for by the fees levied on attendees, proponents may certainly be justified in feeling this free program is worth a shot.

There are others, however, who feel the problems associated with the prostitution industry cannot be solved as long as any law-enforcement procedures are involved- that prostitution should be decriminalized. These advocates feel that the only people allowed to get away with prostitution are the middlemen- not only pimps and traffickers, but operators of massage parlors, escort services, and topless bars. Traffickers are hard to catch and these business owners are given free range of cities, but, if a prostitute tries to reach out to law enforcement for help, she can be arrested.

In light of these issues, many have argued that the way to assist those who have been trapped by this crime is to repeal the laws that make the victims themselves criminals, thereby allowing those victims freedom to come forward, and bringing the entire industry into the light of day. Proponents of this move argue that if prostitution were legal, perhaps this would allow regulation and oversight of brothels, which could hold their owners accountable for the treatment of their workers. This would make it easier to discover victims of trafficking, and, above all, provide a much needed recourse for those who wish to walk away from the job.

In the end, it is up to us a community of individuals to protect the weak and the broken from exploitation and harm. One recourse of action that we know does not produce a good outcome is turning a blind eye. If you are interested in becoming involved with Second Life of Chattanooga and learning more about what you can do to end human slavery, please feel free to get in touch with us about volunteering.