The West Ender
Thursday, July 2, 1998

Tom Zillich

p. 6.

Sex-buying johns sent to classroom

The customers of prostitutes will be students at Vancouver's john school, which will teach students evils of buying sex.

The customers of prostitutes will be students at Vancouver's john school, which will teach students evils of buying sex.

Johns caught purchasing sex should prepare for school.

A police researcher is working to set up classroom sessions attended by those who buy sex from the city's street-walking prostitutes.

The police board last Wednesday approved the john-educating effort, which could be fully operational later this year.

"It won't be a silver bullet to bring an immediate end to street prostitution, but every tool helps," says police chief Bruce Chambers.

The controversial classroom sessions are already held in Toronto, Edmonton and several other cities in North America.

Students are first-time offenders charged with communicating in public to buy sex. When caught, the accused are give the choice of courthouse or day-long classes at the schoolhouse.

The school's unpaid or lowpaid "teachers" -- former prostitutes, health officials, residents who live near strolls -- offer sobering lessons on the dangers of and damage caused by the john's sex-for-cash habits.

Those who attend classes pay up to $400 tuition, money that's usually filtered back to prostitutes or counselling groups.

It's not a taxpayer-funded project, stresses city councillor Lynne Kennedy, who has worked to bring john school to Vancouver.

"We don't need anybody else to fund it, except for the johns themselves," said Kennedy.

"Now it's just a matter of how it's put in place here, where the pieces fit and where the sessions will be held."

Steps are being taken in Vancouver to form a foundation to administer and organize the classroom sessions.

Critics say the school allows johns to pay their way out of serving time in jail. But in Vancouver, at least, johns aren't spending much time in jail anyway. Instead, police have been working to divert prostitution actitivity away from residential areas of the city without making arrests.

Just 30 johns were charged last year by Vancouver police.

"We've learned that putting these offenders in jail doesn't help the problem," says Chambers. "(John school) is another tool to prevent these activities."

Leonard Cler-Cunningham, a director of Prostitution Alternatives Counselling and Education (PACE), says the organization doesn't approve of john school.

"We won't be involved with it," he reasoned Tuesday. "(John school) has got nothing to do with prostitution, but everything to do with people being a so-called nuisance in a neighborhood. It's a moral-condemnation of others by high-ranking offcials."

The debate over john school was sparked here in June 1996, when Kennedy convinced the city council to press police to develop a curriculum in Vancouver.

SFU criminologist John Lowman says john school isn't necessary as a way of preventing men from buying sex. According to his research, only a tiny percentage of men become repeat offenders after being charged with communicating in public for the purpose of buying sex.

"(John school) is an abusive power of the state, because prostitution itself is legal," he says.

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Created: July 11, 1998
Last modified: August 27, 1999

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