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Soliciting prostitutes in Cedar Rapids could lead to 'john school' rather than jail

City examining whether program a fit here

Men arrested in a prostitution sting in Marion in late 2011
Men arrested in a prostitution sting in Marion in late 2011

CEDAR RAPIDS — The city of Cedar Rapids is assessing whether a “john school” — a program designed to educate men on the ills of paying for sex as an alternative to criminal charges for soliciting prostitutes — would be a good fit in this community.

Interest surfaced as Cedar Rapids was adopting an ordinance intended to crack down on illegal massage businesses and help women who may be caught up in the business because of human trafficking.

“I don’t think everyone realizes this isn’t a victimless crime,” said City Council member Ashley Vanorny, noting she’d spoken with victims of human trafficking who favor the approach. “This is not just someone getting their jollies. But, if we can flip the script so instead of having their name in paper or facing jail time, we can address some of the root causes behind this behavior. I think some of this stuff is happening because they don’t see people are being impacted. I think people think they are there because they want to, but many people are not there on their own accord.”

The concept is to provide men education about the negative effects of human trafficking and sex trafficking in hopes they will learn the consequences of their behavior. In exchange, the men would not be saddled with criminal charges.

Amanda Grieder, nuisance property abatement program manager for the city, who’s been tasked with assessing the program, has gathered some preliminary information showing the program would likely be best done pre-arrest as opposed to post-arrest, which then makes it a program run by the city of Cedar Rapids.

She will now lead a social equity impact assessment, which includes posing questions to various stakeholders to ensure such a program would be equitable to all citizens, or the city may decide not to pursue such a program.

“We have a lot of questions still, and this definitely not something the city can commit to at this point,” Grieder said. “I’d like to talk to some of the victims and those involved and see what their thoughts are.”

“There were some questions raised about holding offenders accountable,” she said of conversations within the police department. “Does this program, if we had it, really hold offenders accountable? And that’s something that we don’t know at this point. Is it fair to victims to allow the offenders to not necessarily have a criminal charge in those cases?”

Vanorny described a day or two educational program similar to programs for those who’ve received a drunken driving charge. She also noted it would be geared to first-time offenders and not egregious cases.

Anastasia Basquin, chief victim liaison and community outreach specialist, said it is too early to assess the Linn County Attorney’s Office’s support for the program, but said officials there are open to playing a role in exploring it.

“We need to still see the curriculum and what the whole outline or protocol would entail before we make any decisions,” she said. “We are open to looking at different ideas to try to stop this. When you look at the number of illicit massage parlors, we need to examine this and see what we can do.”

The program has been used in a number of communities although it is not clear how many are still using it today.

Eleanor Levine wrote a chapter called “The Impact of John Schools on Demand for Prostitution” in a scholarly publication called “Broadening the Scope of Human Trafficking Research” that cast doubt on the effectiveness of john schools.

The paper found “while studies have indicated that john schools may reduce recidivism rates, their broader impact on society and on prostitution may be more problematic. Not only do john schools reinforce double standards for buyers and prostitutes within the criminal justice system and society, they do not address the broader societal problems that lead to sex trafficking.”

The paper further criticized that in general, “ they do not hold individual participants accountable for their actions and they may even contribute to more dangerous conditions for prostitutes.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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