CO SB 85, the “john’s bill” or demand-side diversion program, is in the House for second reading today.
What is it?
SB 85 attempts to save young people from sexual slavery, by giving cities an option to establish “john’s schools” for first time offenders. Like traffic school, it’s goal is to educate the consumers (“johns”) about problems associated with prostitution, when arrested. Because the needs of each community are different, they would each be allowed, under the bill, to determine the content of their class.
How does it work?
Johns would have a choice to pay a fine, or go to the class. In it, they could learn about the serious problem of human trafficking and hear from former prostitutes about the dangers of the streets. They would learn that prostitution is not a victimless crime — many young girls and boys enter it out of desperation after running away from home, or from being kicked out, or having nowhere to turn for help. Once on the streets, studies show pimps approach them, on average, within 48 hours. They are often beaten, drugged, trafficked to other cities, and sometimes murdered by their pimps. The hope is that the john’s school will educate the consumers in the industry to make better choices. When the pimps make less money from forcing kids into prostitution, they are less motivated to find them, manipulate them, or enslave them.
What happens if the johns don’t attend the class?
If the john does not want to go to class he (or she) pays the fine, most of which will go to the authorities within each municipality. The fine is stiff enough he (or she) will hopefully want to attend class instead.
How much will this program cost the State of CO?
Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Gooseegg. SB 85 is a win-win-win. The bill is budget neutral — in other words, it costs the state NOTHING. The budget office has determined it pays for itself.
An economic side benefit of the program is that it increases potential fines for violations of state law up to $5000. The exact amount is not specified, and leaves judges flexibility to make decisions based on financial hardship, etc.
Why pick on johns? Why not punish the prostitutes or the pimps?
The current system of arresting prostitutes is not working to reduce the problem of human trafficking. Not only is it sexist (most prostitutes are female and most pimps and johns are male), but prostitutes already suffer an unfair burden in our laws. They are often the unwilling victims, yet we punish them disproportionately.
Pimps are off the hook completely; they are almost impossible to prosecute, since the only witnesses are often the prostitutes and the johns — neither of which are eager to appear in court. (The only way to effectively make pimps pay is to get them where it hurts — in their wallets.)
The current fees for johns who are arrested is so low, many municipalities don’t even bother — it costs more to arrest them in man-hours than they get back in fees. Shaming programs (putting johns on television or their photos on the internet) often punish their innocent families. SB 85 is not a vice bill; it is not about judging, shaming, punishing, or moralizing. It is about education. When consumers understand the serious problem of sexual slavery and human trafficking that exists within the larger industry of prostitution, that awareness can help reduce the problem. Evidence presented in the Senate and House hearings have verified similar programs are already working in other cities in the United States.
Who supports this bill?
Support for this bill has come from people on both sides of the political aisle. It was written by anti-human trafficking international expert Beth Klein, and sponsored by Senator Brandon Shaffer in the CO Senate, and Representative Beth McCann in the CO House. In committees, it passed with bi-partisan support.
Where did the idea come from?
John’s schools have been very effective, and their use is growing in cities all over the country. Here is a review of the San Francisco john school by the Justice Department.
Why not give prostitutes services and options for going into other work?
The bill does not increase services such as job training which would give prostitutes other options. (I personally feel strongly that is needed, as well, but that would be a different bill.) By reducing demand, we believe the bill will slow the steady recruitment of kids at risk for sexual slavery.
What about decriminalizing prostitution, taxing it, and heavily regulating the industry?
This bill does not address decriminalizing prostitution. That conversation may take many years, if and when Coloradans choose to have it. In the meantime, teenagers are working the streets right now, in the city of Denver and elsewhere. Something must be, and can be done, about it now.
Why should I support this bill?
This is one of those rare times Republicans and Democrats can stand together and say, “NO more” to our kids selling their bodies to line the wallets of opportunistic pimps. PLEASE call your legislators and ask them to vote yes on SB85. Phone numbers to all the CO state representatives are here.
“Please support SB 85”.