California Police Shame 'Johns' by Posting Mug Shots on Facebook

By Zoey DiMauro | September 29, 2014 | 5:30pm EDT

Blurred images of four men convicted of soliciting prostitutes on a 2005 billboard in Oakland, Calif. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com)-- Another northern California police department is using social media to publicly shame people who pimp or pay for sex, starting with the 11 “johns” they recently arrested for soliciting undercover cops posing as prostitutes.

Richmond Police Department posted the johns’ mug shots on their Facebook page September 6, then took the photos down three days later, as part of established departmental policy.

“In our eyes, [we do this] to help battle this ongoing issue within our city,” Sergeant Nicole Abetkov told CNSNews.com. “This a step we’re taking to curb the problem we’ve had.”

Mug shots of the accused are posted within 48 hours of their arrests, although it may be weeks or months before they go to trial and the court system declares them either guilty or innocent, Abetkov acknowledged.

“There has been mixed opinions from the community,” she admitted, “but a lot of people have thought it was a positive.

“I don't know if people [across the country] are getting the whole picture,” she added, noting that the prostitutes themselves can be underage victims of sex trafficking.“Oftentimes the problem is they’re not adults, they’re teenagers - young girls being forced into it.”

Even those not involved in the crime of prostitution are affected by it, such as the wives and girlfriends of johns who might contract sexually transmitted diseases, Abetkov added.

She said that the nearby Oakland Police Dept. also has a john-shaming policy, complete with a web page that shows pictures and information on arrested pimps and johns twice a month, with the disclaimer that those pictured “are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.”

However, some legal experts are worried that a disclaimer is not enough to save the accused from the court of public opinion.

"The disclaimer that these individuals are 'presumed innocent' may not be enough to prevent these individuals from being unfairly stigmatized," Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a former federal prosecutor, told SFGate. "My major concern is that they are posting pictures of persons who have just been arrested and charged, not convicted.”

Hanni Fakhoury, a lawyer from Electronic Frontier Foundation, told CNSNews.com that she also has concerns about posting the mug shots on social media, but says that the police have a First Amendment right to share public information however they choose.

Other internet sites, such as Mugshots.com, share a similar philosophy about exposing arrest records.

“Law Enforcement agencies and states have long recognized the many public benefits of releasing Official Records and mug shots to the public,” it says. ”From identifying criminals to helping citizens keep a pulse on their communities, to supporting communities when wanted criminals are on the run.”

report published by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2012 says that curbing the demand for prostitution is a crucial part of fighting it, citing research that suggests that cracking down on johns is more effective than targeting either prostitutes or pimps.

The first known use of the shaming tactic was in Eugene, Ore. in 1975, the report stated.

“Wherever demand occurs, supply and distribution emerge” in the commercial sex trade, the DOJ report noted. “While it may be an oversimplification to say that demand is the sole cause or influence on markets, it is indisputable that removing or reducing demand reduces or eliminates markets.”

The study listed several examples of police departments across the nation targeting johns in order to reduce prostitution, such as the one in Petersburg, Fla. which found that “a comprehensive approach emphasizing arresting and shaming johns was associated with a 24 percent reduction in calls for police service.”

A similar tactic of arresting johns and sending them to a rehabilitation school in Buffalo, N.Y. was associated with a 60 percent reduction in 911 calls regarding prostitution, according to the DOJ.

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