Be Good Johnny


Eileen Smith

There are certain victimless crimes and youthful indiscretions that we as a society should be able to forgive and forget, such as public intoxication, littering, underage drinking or soliciting a prostitute. That’s why the Texas House has passed legislation that would create what is known as a first offender prostitution prevention program, more commonly referred to as “john school.” This diversionary program, created through House Bill 1994 by Rep. Randy Weber, R-Pearland, would serve as an alternative to criminal prosecution for men arrested for trying to pick up a prostitute. The classes are set up to teach offenders, in Weber’s words, that “prostitution is not a victimless crime,” which apparently comes as a surprise to anyone who thinks that women grow up dreaming of becoming prostitutes. (Yes, most of these women probably realize that Richard Gere is not going to drive up in a Lotus Esprit and rescue them from a life of poverty.)

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with education programs which may help curb the deviant behavior of pitiful men who have to pay for sex, it’s the prostitutes, not the johns, who could face stricter penalties since they wouldn’t have the benefit of a similar diversionary program. Under the new law, men (and only men) who elect to participate in the program would pay a fine of up to $1,000, which covers counseling, a victim services fee and a law enforcement training fee. After they successfully complete the program, the offender is eligible for deferred adjudication. Kind of like defensive driving but for men who pick up hookers.

Meanwile, prostitutes would pay a steeper price than the johns: $2,000 fines for first offenses, $4,000 for repeat offenses—with no “diversionary” programs. But apparently it’s more critical to “educate” the perpetrators first. Also the lawmakers. In a pointless exchange during the debate, Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, speaking in opposition to the bill, asked Weber to define what a “john” is—a pimp? a client? a port-a-potty?—saying she was not familiar with the industry. Weber responded that he’s not familiar with the industry either, making it clear that he is an upstanding family man, in case anyone was wondering. Who in God’s name is familiar with the industry? (Don’t answer that.) 

The obvious question is whether this type of education program works. Last year the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation conducted a study on john schools nationwide. According to their analysis of a San Francisco program—the city that launched one of the first john schools—such programs are actually quite successful at reducing recidivism rates. CAASE found that 83 percent of offenders who buy sex consider it an addiction and view women as commodities (as opposed to the other 17 percent who buy sex out of their deep respect for women).

Maybe next session legislators will think about the real victims.