Jolene Hernon: Hello. I'm Jolene Hernon. I'm the chief of communications at the National Institute of Justice. I'm here today with Mike Shively, who's a senior associate at Abts Associates. He recently completed an evaluation of the First Offender Prostitution Program in San Francisco, which has gained tremendous interest across the nation. So, we're gonna talk today a little bit about some of the specifics about the program in San Francisco, but as, as well, a little bit about how it's transferred to other places.
Maybe we could start, Mike, by talking the eligibility requirements to get into the First Offender Program. And it's typically called the "Johns School," right?
Michael Shively: Yeah. It's a generic term that's used out there, but there's a lot of various names.
Hernon: OK. So, how do you get into a Johns School? What happens?
Shively: Almost every man that ends up in a Johns School class was arrested by police during what is called a "reverse sting," often. Some people would prefer it to be called just a "sting," 'cause it's the way we should do things, which is focus on the men. But these are the decoy operations where a police woman is placed on the street usually. Sometimes there are web variations of these approaches. But on a reverse sting, they have a police officer posing as a prostitute. And they wait for the men to approach them and offer money for sex, and then they make an arrest. And almost every many that ends up in a Johns School program, that's how they began the process.
Hernon: Do you have to be a first offender? Do you have to —
Shively: In San Francisco ... You know these programs vary. There are over 40 Johns Schools in the country. And San Francisco is the biggest program in the country, and it was one of the first ones. And it's the model for most of the other ones that followed, but it's also only one program, and there are a lot of variations out there. But in their program, the eligible guys are the ones who are there for a first arrest in San Francisco. They can have previous arrests elsewhere. But if it's a first arrest in San Francisco, they don't have an extensive violent criminal history, they don't have any sex offenses, and they don't have any domestic violence in the criminal history, then they're eligible. Then they have to agree to do the Johns School, and then they have to remain arrest free. So ...
Hernon: OK. What, what, and what does it mean to go to the Johns School? These are weekend classes? Or how does it work?
Shively: It's a one-day class in San Francisco. And the majority of the programs are these one-day classes. So they vary anywhere from four to eight hours. San Francisco's is eight. And so they show up to the class, they register, and they listen to a series of presentations. And they're usually anywhere from three to eight different elements to the curriculum, but it's, it's a one-shot thing where they sit there for the day. And then they're done. And then, you know, some jurisdictions have this post-class requirement that they don't get arrested again for a year before they'll have their charges dismissed. But the class itself is usually one day. Now other jurisdictions have set them up differently. There have been a two-day Johns School programs where it's the same idea stretched over two days. And another model is to have it be more of a counseling program where they go over a period of time to a series of sessions that are either individual or group counseling. And those can go up to 12 weeks where they have weekly meetings. The typical one's more like four or six times that they'll meet.
Hernon: And what do they do in the classes? What presentations do they get?
Shively: The basic ones that are the most common — and these are what they do in San Francisco — they discuss legal consequences. And it focuses on what will happen to the guys if they continue to do this, and they get caught — more, you know, severe penalties. They point out to them they won't have a Johns School option the second time around, so consider themselves lucky. Next time they're likely to serve time in jail and have all these other penalties.
So there's legal consequences; there's health consequences. They talk about the fact that, you know, it's high-risk behavior for contracting disease and also spreading those diseases onto other people, like wives and girlfriends. They also discuss the fact that condoms are not an answer to all the infections that they can catch. And they also point out to the men that they can't self-diagnose the people they're buying sex from. No matter what they think, they cannot tell who does and doesn't have various diseases. So there's a health consequences, legal consequences.
A third major element is consequences for the community and people from the neighborhood. Sometimes just residents, sometimes they're in associations that talk about their ... They talk about the detriment to the community to have street prostitution in particular — condoms, syringes on the street, people walking their kids to school and being propositioned, fights, you know, drunkenness that seems to swirl around this problem.
They also talk to the men about the consequences to the women and girls that they buy sex from. And how sometimes they think they're buying from an adult and that it can be a minor. And if so, whether they have been lied to or not, they will be charged with a far more serious offense if it's a minor.
And then they talk about how vulnerable the men are to being victimized by robbery or assault, because they're in the middle of committing a crime themselves, and they're far less likely to report it. And everyone understands that, including the prostituted people and the pimps. So it's, it's not uncommon at all for them to be set up and robbed.
Other elements that ... Those are the major ones, you know, that are in most of the programs. Other elements are sexual addiction. They don't assume that every guy is a sex addict, but they think that some of them are, and they give them kind of a self-diagnosis checklist they can go through. And they talk about if it's something that you can't stop yourself from doing, and it's a detriment to your life, it's harmful to marriages, families, their income, then they may be an addict. And they talk to them about how they can get help for that. Sometimes they talk about healthy relationships as an alternative to buying sex.
Hernon: Did you ... Have you interviewed any of the men who've been through this program?
Shively: No, I haven't. That ... It wasn't a part of the two projects that we were funded to do. It's a whole separate animal to do that.
Hernon: But what do you know about these guys afterwards?
Shively: There's a lot of research on it, so it's really not a mystery what the guys are looking for. And, you know, part, in, in, in ... The one thing that's very clear is that there're multiple motivations. This is not a monolithic group of people all motivated in the same way. They're looking for different things. And what the research says — and, you know, at least 20 studies on it — if you sift through it, the typology follows out. And the typology's basically you can cut it up any way you want, but I think they're four major types.
One is the sad sack lonely guy that's looking for connection, companionship, sex, love, you know, they want a wife or girlfriend, but they can't get it for some reason, so they try to get the next best thing. Sex is part of it, definitely, but not the whole thing. So that's a motivation. Second type is I would call a thrill seeker — a guy that needs and wants a lot of variety in his sex partners, so he's looking at different races, sizes, nationalities or whatever. And a third type would be a guy that is basically the mirror image of the lonely guy, which is a guy that just wants sex but none of the other stuff. He doesn't want companionship; he doesn't want a relationship; he often considers himself very busy; he doesn't have time for all that. So ... And then the fourth type are that I would call the scary guys, the bad guys, the sociopaths, the psychopaths. And these are the guys who're very motivated to have someone vulnerable that they can control and hurt and humiliate. And these are the guys, you know, that they're probably numerically rarer than the other types, but they're the ones that really do the damage. They turn into the serial killers.
And so, but you can see that if you think through the, the motivations, it's pretty easy to see why one size doesn't fit all in terms of an intervention, because if you have nothing but an empathy based program that's trying to get these guys to empathize with communities or the women and girls, that'll work for maybe the lonely guy or the busy guy — you know, the guys that are not meaning to do any harm, but they're just trying to get some needs met in a way that's not too smart. But there are other guys that are trying to hurt people, so telling them, "You know what, what you're doing is very harmful," that can be criminogenic or motivating for a true sociopath or psychopath. So some men are just motivated by self interests. So those other things are not, they're at least useless and could even be harmful.
But a lot of these guys really are not looking to do harm, they're just being stupid. And education seems to work. You know, just telling them that these myths or delusions or these, you know, these bad information that they have rattling around in their heads, when they're looking to buy sex, they think that it's victimless, and it's generally not a victimless crime. They think that the women and girls actually enjoy it or at least don't mind it. They think they're freely choosing it, which, you know, in some cases is probably true, but it's ... You know "free choice" is a kind of a relative term, and almost no one engages in this that isn't desperate in some way — economic pressure, addiction, very fouled up through a long history of being abused or, or having a pimp or trafficker making them do it, meeting a quota or else they get beat up or not fed or thrown out in the streets.
So most people do this because they're in some kind of a desperate circumstance of some kind, and a lot of the guys don't believe it. And part of what helps them maintain their delusions is what the women and girls themselves will tell them, the ones that they're buying sex from. This by no means should be interpreted as victim blaming. This isn't. But there is a dynamic in place where the women and girls that are selling sex present themselves in a way that makes these guys believe that they want to be there. Because that's how they can get money. You know, unless they separate the men from their money, they're in trouble. So in ... They're not gonna make any money by telling these guys, "You know what, I'm forced to be here, and I feel like stabbing you." And that's what a lot of the women really feel like. You know, they wish they could escape, and they have a lot of anger, resentment, hatred, you know, towards the men that they're serving.
Hernon: Before we started this podcast, you were talking a little bit about some of the service, the services that these women need, and you were talking about the Swedish model. Can you tell us a little bit about the Swedish model? And what they are doing in Sweden that's different than in the U.S.
Shively: Well, they've, they've tried to take what is commonly in place and almost invert it. What has been the historical approach to commercial sex and in some sex trafficking has been to basically leave the men alone. Chase 'em off but not cite them or arrest them or do anything with them and to focus on the women and the girls that are providing sex. And it's mostly a punitive approach, which is arrest them, cite them, fine them, throw 'em in jail for a bit, very little treatments offered historically. And the pimps and traffickers are very difficult to reach and not much effort has really gone into it. So what they tried to implement in Sweden is they actually decriminalize selling sex. They took the prostitution law off the books regarding the people that are selling sex. So they decriminalize selling and criminalize buying, and all of their police efforts go into either going after the pimps or traffickers or the buyers.
Now, that is more or less in place, not through a change in law but just through practice, in the United States in different cities. You know, San Francisco, for example. I mean they haven't decriminalized selling, and it isn't like they don't arrest women, but their emphasis is, is definitely on arresting the johns. And they also do what they can to try to get the pimps and traffickers. They haven't decriminalized it, but our current laws are in place that would still allow you to be as aggressive as you wanna be going after johns and also to use arrest of providers of commercial sex, not so much as a punishment but as an entree to services.
You know, again, like we discussed earlier, a lot of the women have needs that are very severe and need intervention, like addiction or like PTSD from long-term abuse or "unemployability," you know, from their criminal records and from poverty, you know, lack of, you know, building up a job history. So a lot of things that they need, and just arresting to punish basically drives them farther and farther down. And it makes them have fewer and fewer options other than selling sex. So arresting for arresting's sake is at best useless and typically is, is counterproductive. But if it's used as a tool to basically extract them from a situation and get them to services, then it can, it can be a useful thing. But the key is having the services. If the services aren't there, you don't have anything to get them into.
Hernon: So let's talk about a little bit about the services and who pays for those services. Some of the money that the johns pay to go to the school is used for treatment, housing services, education programs, things like that, for the women? Is that right?
Shively: Now let's take San Francisco as an example of ... You know, SAGE, Standing Against Global Exploitation, is a nonprofit. It's one of the pioneers in this field in terms of trying to develop both the, you know, the johns approach as the Johns School but also the treatment for the women and girls caught up in prostitution. It's very high profile, successful; it's relatively well staffed, well funded. And they have a lot of support from other areas other than the Johns School revenue stream, but, but, you know, they have very serious services in place, and they serve hundreds of people. That's a nonprofit, and it's also relatively rare.
The other ones ... And a lot of communities don't have much of anything that's equivalent to that, and in a lot of the other ones are much smaller. So the service provision is, you know, sometimes it's through face, faith-based organizations. Catholic Charities is real active in a lot of places. There, there's some help coming from Salvation Army as an initiative, an anti-trafficking initiative, and they have some involvement. There's a lot of local nonprofits and NGOs, some are faith-based, some aren't. Some shelters, you know, basically they're, they're, they're primary identity is as a shelter service, but they also develop programs for women and girls that are involved in commercial sex, because they have specialized needs.
You know, police are partners. I mean, they're not gonna run these services, but a lot of times they collaborate, and they recruit people to them. And, and the courts sometimes have the service provision hard-wired into their process, so women and girls will sometimes be court ordered, or at least referred, into some of these services. But you know they vary tremendously.
And the one thing that's different about Sweden ... You know, people are discussing trying to bring the Swedish model to the United States and either through a county or city level or trying to get a state to move in that direction. You know, I clearly think they have a good and healthy model, but I don't think it's all that simple to get from where we are here to there because, and one of the big differences is that compared to the United States, Sweden has a very, very robust social service network and safety net. You know, they're whole tax structure, they're whole, you know, they're whole society is much different. You know, they have, you know, social services, you know, it's a, you know, it's a social democracy and, you know, they have a very robust social service network. So they have services to, to put people into. And in some cities, some counties in the United States, they're good, and then that model would make more sense.
Hernon: A lot more spotty here in the U.S.
Shively: Right, but what the fear is among some people is that, you know, part of what they've done in Sweden is decriminalize selling, but they did that in tandem with these other two things: trying to get aggressive about the pimps and traffickers and about the johns, and they also have this robust service for the survivors of commercial sex. All of those things kind of work together as a system. Some places that are trying to decriminalize selling sex in the United States may ... You know, the fear would be that they would just end up decriminalizing selling without the services, and they're still not doing much with the pimps and the johns, and then all you would have is basically kind of, you know, open season. You know, it would be taking, taking the attention away from it and off we go with decriminalized commercial sex.
Hernon: You'd have a worse problem than you have now, possibly.
Shively: Well, you know, and, you know, Atlanta is actually, they're trying to hit all, they're basically working on all three of these elements. They, they have legislation that's in the works right now that is trying to bolster services. They're trying to decriminalize under-aged prostitution, selling sex for minors, so that they don't get arrested, that they actually just get brought into services. And they're also trying to develop a Johns School and get police to do more reverse stings. So they're working the in right direction on all of these fronts, you know. And if it all goes forward as a package, I think it will be really terrific, you know, probably a very good system. If what they or any other communities, if they succeed in decriminalizing selling, but they don't succeed in getting the other elements then it could be a real problem, because I think it would send a message. This is just my opinion, you know, but I think it would send a message to the community, and also to the police, that it, you know, if a pimp is basically an accessory to a crime or if a john is an accessory to something, if they're a part of this, but you decriminalize that thing itself, it may take police attention elsewhere. So, you know, it's very, very critical that the police are on board in these discussions. You know, that, that if they.
Hernon: Well it sounds like a number of people have to be on board. The courts have to be on board. You have to have some support services in place. You have to have law enforcement in place. You have to have a lot of things in place to make this work.
Shively: Yes, absolutely.
Hernon: And that's typical of a lot of criminal justice activities, really.
Shively: Yeah, you know, you know, collaboration is ... It makes common sense, and it's policy. You know, I mean, there are all kinds of policies that are in place that, that say collaboration is a good thing. It's, it's a lot harder to pull off in practice than we would like. And some collaborations are held together through grants, and when the grants die out, they fall apart. And one of the things that's been remarkable about the Johns School programs is that they're real collaborations, you know this isn't just window dressing. And it's not just like something on a contract or MOU, this is, they really are working together.
You know, in San Francisco, the police and the courts and this nonprofit, SAGE, and the Department of Public Health in San Francisco, they've had the same set of partners in place for 14 years. And it's largely not grant driven. They've gotten some grants, but the Johns School is almost entirely sustained through the, the fees the men pay. And, you know, sometimes you get a charismatic leader that holds something together, and they move on and then the things fall apart, but this, you know, the program in San Francisco and a lot of these other ones really hold up.
They tend to be easy to hold together and partly is the economics of it, because if they're financially self-sustaining, you don't get those battles that you get everywhere else where you're, you know, where you're pitting one program against another, you know, you're thinking about, you know, do I pay for the public schools or do I pay for police to do reverse stings. In this case, the reverse stings are separate from the Johns Schools, like they don't get supported entirely by the fees. But in San Francisco's case, a third of the revenue goes back to the police to help defray the costs of the reverse stings.
And police, you know, policing is generally not a revenue-generating activity, so getting any return at all on their efforts, especially since they're things that should be done and need to be done anyway, the fact that they get some return is real helpful. It's helped the police stay on board with it; and the courts, they get their costs covered, and then the nonprofit. Everyone's getting their costs covered through the fees, so it's you know sustaining. I know of 45 different programs around the country, a lot of them have been around eight, 10, 12 years, and very few programs — I know of only nine programs that have stopped and started — have been discontinued. And I think it's a, you know, a remarkable sustainment rate.
Hernon: I think our time is just about up, Michael. Is there anything else you wanna say to the listeners?
Shively: Well, when you, when you look not just at the evidence of the couple of studies that I have done, you know, I've ... The Department of Justice, NIJ and OJJDP, they've supported the evaluation of the First Offender Prostitution Program. The NIJ is supporting a national assessment where we're gathering this descriptive information, and, you know, we've got some really interesting evidence, you know, about these programs and what they're like. But there's other evidence, too. You know, our evidence is all positive. You know, I mean there's nothing negative has really been turned up. You know, in 20 years of doing program evaluation and applied research, it's, it's not often that you run into a program that is successful, you know, does what it's trying to do, and you can prove it. You know, you've got really good evidence about it.
Hernon: Got really good evidence about it, right.
Shively: Sometimes you think it's good, but the data just aren't there. But in this case, we've been able to have, we've had good data. But when, when you look at other evidence, too, there's anecdotal evidence in a couple of communities in the United Kingdom, Ipswich and Bolton, have gone to this model that is—
Hernon: Johns School model?
Shively: Well, here's the model. The model for effective intervention in commercial sex, sex trafficking is a therapeutic approach for the people providing commercial sex. A punitive approach is not helpful, but a therapeutic approach is. Doesn't mean — Hernon: And you have the evidence to—
Shively: Yes, and it doesn't mean that you have to decriminalize to get a therapeutic approach. It's just through enforcement, you can just, you know, change the practice and make it primarily about treatment. That's one element. The other element is to go after the johns, you know, demand is the driver. You know, the suppliers, the supply of commercial sex and sex trafficking are best thought of as victims or survivors for the most part. And they're a symptom — they're a symptom of demand. They would not be there doing that if there were no demand for it. And the same with the pimps and traffickers, they're the distributors. And the root cause is consumer demand. And the efforts ... You know, the model's emerging. There are two communities in England, you know, Bolton and Ipswich, that have both had dramatic decreases in those communities by rooting the women into therapy and arresting the men and putting them into a Johns School. Devon Brewer did an NIJ-funded study where he didn't, he wasn't looking at Johns Schools; he was looking at just the deterrent effect of arrest. And it was a good study. And they were able to kind of address the displacement issue and found there is an impact, a positive impact from arrest alone. We've got our Johns School findings, which say you get an additional effect from education. Bolton and Ipswich have anecdotal evidence that are consistent. And the findings from Sweden, which they don't have Johns Schools as part of theirs, but they have the arrests of johns and the treatment for women as a model. So this model, the evidence is really coming together, not just statistical "researchy" research but also evidence from experience in the field. And three different countries are all pointing in one direction, so, to one model. And it really is an alternative. I mean, arresting women, doing nothing but going after the pimps and traffickers. You could rescue every victim and arrest every pimp and trafficker, but how long would it take before they were all replaced if demand is still strong? So, you know, for a lot of reasons, I just think that demand is the driver, and it's the key. The other things need to be addressed, because we can't let pimps and traffickers operate unabated and say it's OK. And they're ... It's a good thing to do. And also the survivors, they're, they're probably not ever going to eliminate demand. There's always a need, and they need their needs addressed, too. But to, to suppress a market, to change a market, to actually reduce the magnitude of the problem, I don't see any other alternative but to have demand be a feature.
Hernon: OK, thanks. Mike Shively, senior associate at Abt Associates. To read Mike's report on the evaluation of the First Offenders Prostitution Program in San Francisco, go to NIJ's Web site and type in Mike Shively's name, and he'll come up. Thanks very much, Mike.
Shively: All right, thank you.
Select a link below to download and play or save the MP3 files:
Information generated by the National Institute of Justice is in the public domain. It may be reproduced, published or otherwise used without permission. Please cite NIJ as the source of the information by using the following words:
"The [insert the name of you organization] gratefully acknowledges the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, for allowing us to reproduce, in part or in whole, the recording [insert title]. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this recording are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice."
The content presented in this recording is not intended to create, does not create, and may not be relied upon to create any rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law by any party in any matter civil or criminal.
Opinions or points of view expressed in this recording represent those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. Any products and manufacturers discussed in this recording are presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute product approval or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Text goes here.
Date Modified: September, 25 2009