Written by Krista Ludwick, Second Life of Chattanooga Volunteer

In over 50 cities around the country, community officials are launching “john school” programs, designed to prevent men who have been arrested for soliciting a prostitute from offending a second time.

The first john school was founded in San Francisco in 1995, as a collaborative effort of the city’s police department, DA’s office, and anti-exploitation organization SAGE. The success of this First Offenders Prostitution Program has inspired the opening of similar programs in many cities, including Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Chicago, and Nashville.

The program format varies from location to location, but is usually structured as a one- day class of sessions, or as several weeks of group or individual counseling. Attendance is often a requirement that has been coupled with a sentence and penalty, although in some cities it is used as a diversion program, providing an option for men with no previous records to avoid criminal charges and a legal process.

In whichever form, the programs are not meant to be an “easy way out” for the men. A typical curriculum includes a variety of presentations which can be emotional, disturbing and heated, as the men hear from all sides, the physical, legal, financial, and personal ramifications of soliciting sex. Law enforcement and legal workers lay out the potential jail time, steep fines, criminal charges, and legal impact of being apprehended a second time – including potential statutory rape charges for the intentional or unintentional soliciting of a minor for sex. Neighborhood activists also present on the impact that prostitution has on the quality of life in their communities. Some of the sessions include resources for addressing sexual addiction, conflict resolution, and anger management.

Perhaps the most effective and intense portions of the program are the health risk presentations and the survivor testimonies. Men learn the health risks of STDs through harsh facts and photos; for those men who are not concerned with the impact their actions have others, this health risk session can create a strong appeal to their own self interests.

Alternatively, men who do empathize with the pain of others can be deeply affected towards change during the survivor testimonies, when they hear what life as a prostitute is really like. Former prostitutes and victims of exploitation share about the sexual, emotional and physical abuse they often endured as children, which for many, lead them into a life of prostitution. They also recount the violence, rape, and drug addictions that they have endured while working the streets.

Studies report that the john school program model is self sustaining, with attendees’ mandatory tuition usually covering all the costs of classes and administration – leaving no cost to taxpayers. More importantly, the courses are proving to be overall effective, changing attitudes and significantly reducing the likelihood of second offenses among those who go through the course.

Do they really help? I think that is for the individual to decide.

For a closer look at john schools in the U.S., visit  this page on DemandForum.net.