Public shaming has become the latest trend in the fight against sex trafficking and prostitution. LA County has voted to follow several other city and county governments in an attempt to deter child sex trafficking. The LA County Board of Supervisors recently voted unanimously to request a plan from county attorneys that provides “for the publication of the names of individuals convicted of soliciting prostitution…with a particular emphasis on individuals that solicit minors who are victims of sex trafficking.” 1
Part of the campaign involves displaying photographs of the “johns” on billboards, the Internet, and elsewhere as a way to discourage participation in prostitution. The degradation of the social status of those who solicit sex from minors or other victims of sex trafficking could force johns to be more accountable.
However, when a Richmond, California police captain posted mug shots of men who had been arrested for prostitution on the Facebook page of the police department, he ended up taking the mug shots down after Facebook users added personal information about the suspects, including their places of employment, where they attended school and their home addresses. 2
Penalties and Punishments for Prostitution in California (California Penal Code Section 647(b))
Prostitution is a misdemeanor crime that carries up to a $1,000 fine and a maximum six month sentence in county jail. These penalties are increased with any subsequent conviction for prostitution or solicitation.
Under California Penal Code Section 261.9, it is illegal to seek or procure the sexual services of a prostitute under the age of 18. 4 Anyone who is convicted under California Penal Code Section 261.9 will be fined up to $25,000 on top of any other penalty and punishment.
If you violate California Penal Code Section 647(b) while in your vehicle or near personal residences, the court can suspend or restrict your driver’s license and your vehicle could be seized by law enforcement.
Is Public Shaming for Prostitution Justified?
Thus far, Richmond, National City, San Bernardino, and Stockton have all instituted some type of “john shaming” program, and Orange County is pushing for a “Sex Purchasers” section on the district attorney’s website where prostitution offenders’ mug shots will be posted for an indefinite period of time. LA County is planning to post offender mug shots in a variety of public places. However, the question remains: does public shaming work to reduce prostitution?
Issues that should be considered are how the public shaming affects the families of offenders and how much scrutiny it opens them up to. So far, it is unknown how the children of offenders whose mug shots have been posted in public places have been affected at home, at school, and in their community.
Prostitution Research and Education Executive Director Melissa Farley told the Los Angeles Times that she is “unaware of any evidence that shaming has resulted in long-term behavior change.” She referred to the effectiveness of Swedish law, which makes prostitution a crime equivalent to a felony, as an example of how increasing criminal penalties for prostitution works as opposed to public shaming.
While public shaming is legal, is there sufficient justification for punishing an offender who has already been penalized under California law?
Share Your Feedback with Us
We at Wallin & Klarich would like to hear from you about this topic. Do you agree that people who pay for sex should be shamed publicly on top of established legal penalties and punishments? What are some of the reasons you see that would make these laws a good or bad idea? Please feel free to leave your comments below.