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Cities turn to humiliation to fight prostitution

Police are posting photos of 'Johns' on websites or billboards, but critics say the tactic ignores causes.

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Anyone who's ever wondered just who the men are who cruise this city's seedier strips looking for sex can now satisfy their curiosity.

Starting last month, the Chicago Police Department has been posting the names of "johns" arrested for engaging or soliciting prostitutes - along with their photo, address, age, and place of arrest. A recent sample included men from low-income Chicago neighborhoods and relatively well-to-do suburbs, of all ages and ethnicities.

It's part of a tactic more and more cities are using, cracking down on prostitution by focusing on demand, often using tactics of humiliation - like Chicago's website or billboards in Oakland, Calif. - to try and convince potential customers to stay home.

It's a trend that some applaud, saying the men who drive the trade have been overlooked too often while prostitutes get arrested. Others question its effectiveness, suggesting that websites and "john schools" that educate customers about the realities of prostitution accomplish little.

"The first thing you have to ask is why are people involved in prostitution - overwhelmingly it's related to economic issues," says Juhu Thukral, director of the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center in New York. Focusing on demand, Thukral says, won't reduce the amount of prostitution; rather, more resources should go toward supportive housing, job training, and legal services - "programs that teach people how to get mainstream jobs that will provide a living wage."

Still, others involved in the issue say that efforts like Chicago's are an encouraging sign that cities are both waking up to the problems around prostitution and are recognizing that customers play as important a role as the prostitutes.

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