Tucked away from public view in a classroom on the edge of town, a handful of men got a frank lesson yesterday on the cruelty of pimps, the pitfalls of sex addiction and the dangers of gonorrhea.
“John School” — a new alternative to prosecution for men caught trying to buy sex in the District — graduated its first class yesterday at the D.C. police academy.
Some of the dozen or so men showed up with hats and sunglasses — which they were promptly ordered to remove — but by the end, most thanked their instructors, shared smiles with their classmates and seemed to get the message.
“We’re not here to shame you or demean you or preach to you,” said program manager Caroline Nicholl. “We just really want to give you information on which you can make your own choices about your future.”
Teachers explained the 10 signs of sex addiction and the D.C. Health Department offered free HIV and syphilis testing. A few former nightwalkers even addressed the men.
“I felt very expendable,” said one former prostitute who appeared in a video that described the violence and dead-end hopelessness that these women suffer.
Psychologist Roosevelt Johnson tried to evoke sympathy in the men by sharing survey results showing 71 percent of prostitutes are mothers.
“It’s OK to have [a sexual relationship] with a love object,” he said. “It is not OK to have a relationship with a nonlove object.”
The schooling, conducted over the course of eight hours in one day, is part of a larger Prostitution Intervention Program that “deals with the supply and demand,” Ms. Nicholl said.
While the men are diverted from “turning tricks,” the prostitutes will be instructed beginning in August through outpatient and residential care.
“In addition to the criminal justice issue, we’re trying to address the health issues surrounding street prostitution and the issues that impact the local community,” Ms. Nicholl said.
John School, based on a model program in San Francisco, will be held every other month in the District, with about 50 men expected for the next session. Each participant must pay a $300 fee, which will be put toward the funding of prostitute care.
Before each solicitation case goes to court, the johns have the choice to fight the charge or admit guilt and go to school.
If they complete the class, the arrest remains on their record, but there is no conviction.
If arrested again within six months of the class, the men will be charged with the new offense and the previous one that landed them in the John School.
One participant yesterday had trouble admitting his guilt.
“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he told Mr. Johnson.
Plainclothes officers in the back of the room took the man outside, where he broke down and changed his story. He returned, apologized and told them he was in denial.
“We don’t want anybody to be a part of the program if they think they’re innocent,” a representative from the U.S. Attorney’s Office told the group.
“Pass the word, we want people who think … they have a problem and want to use the program for good.”
Before leaving, he told the men: “Good luck. Stay on the right path. And don’t take this the wrong way, but I hope I never see you again.”