Shaming Kerb Crawlers off the streets?

Humiliation and disgrace are the key elements in Minneapolis’ new initiative to fight prostitution. Officials hope that exposing men with seedy sex habits will reduce the number of people who risk soliciting prostitutes.

“Our aggressive enforcement efforts have not been enough to change this behavior,” 3rd Precinct Commander Lucy Gerold said of prostitution.

Minneapolis is a US city notorious for prostitution. Officials say that ‘johns’, men who pick up prostitutes, come from the suburbs and even from other states for the burgeoning sidewalk sex market.

In some parts of the city, prostitution is so commonplace that innocent female citizens, including high school students, receive offers.

In a report on the effects prostitution has on Minneapolis’ businesses, one woman claimed that a bald-headed man approached her with a $50 bill while she was waited for the bus. Another said that she hailed a taxi and, when she requested the fare, the driver turned and said, “The better question is how much do you charge?”

Commander Gerold said that Minneapolis “needs a campaign that tells everyone that these are family neighbourhoods and not the marketplace for prostitution”.

To make things clear, Minneapolis is using digital billboard space to publicise photos of men caught buying sex on the street.

The billboard doesn’t actually show pictures of anyone. Instead, commuters on Interstate 35 see a blurred mug shot and are encouraged to visit www.johnspics.org, where they can find out who has been arrested and who has been convicted of soliciting prostitution.

The hope is that men who are tempted to use prostitutes will be too worried about family members and co-workers discovering they are caught.

Previously, first-time offenders were merely forced to enrol in an education programme. After completing the course, they faced no further legal repercussions.

Now, the prosecution standard has changed and first offences become part the offenders’ criminal record. And their photos remain on display for up to twelve months.

Minneapolis’ new approach is “to focus on the demand side,” said city Attorney, Susan Segal.

Citizens are being solicited. Business owners in certain areas suffer diminishing numbers of clients and are forced to pick up condoms and other paraphernalia. And, children are exposed the illegal sex market where the entire transaction, from advertising sex to rendering services, often takes place in public.

“We want the word to get out that soliciting prostitution is not okay in our city, on our streets, or in our neighborhoods”, said Segal.

Minneapolis is not the first US city to maintain a prostitution offenders’ website. Use of the internet to inform the public of sexually-related offences is a growing trend in America. But using a 6-month billboard campaign encouraging the public to keep a watchful eye on who’s up to what – that’s unique.

Michelle Smith for RT