STL Cops to End World's Oldest Profession by Publicly Shaming Johns with Postcards

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Nobody sends postcards anymore...except the police. - WIKIMEDIA/KAY CHERNUSH FOR THE U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
  • Wikimedia/Kay Chernush for the U.S. State Department
  • Nobody sends postcards anymore...except the police.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department wants to put an end to prostitution once and for all, darn it! And they're going to do it with the help of bright yellow postcards.

Captain Dan Howard of the SLMPD's 1st precinct says people in Carondelet and Holly Hills are sick and tired of prostitutes walking the streets, so he's going to put them out of business with a public-shaming campaign. People arrested for prostitution and solicitation will get a snarky postcard informing them of their court date.

Here's what the card says:

"Thanks for your visit to (address) on (date). The city of St. Louis, its residents and your neighbors would like to remind you that lewd, lascivious and/or suggestive behavior (including but not limited to prostitution, solicitation and prostitution loitering) are a violation of city ordinance and state law."

The postcard also informs readers that engaging in sexual activity with prostitutes can result in sexually transmitted diseases.

Although people are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty in the United States of America, the SLMPD hopes everyone on the suspect's block, including their family, sees the postcard. And just in case they don't, the police will make a concerted effort to get suspects' pictures blasted all over local media.

"This is not meant to 'humiliate' or 'embarrass' anybody -- those are words other people are using. This is meant to educate people." Howard tells Daily RFT.

But what if a suspect's family members happen to read it?

"Their family will know somebody in that household shouldn't miss a court date," says Harvey. "And whoever reads it will know that there's certain parts of the city that if you engage in certain types of activities that you can gain an STD."

For Howard, the strategy is simple economics: shame -- or "educate" -- the demand, and you eliminate the supply.

It's something that thousands of years of religious institutions have not been able to accomplish, but what the hell? Why not give this a whirl? It's not like it hasn't been done before.

Click on the next page for more talk about prostitutes, johns and cops...

According to DemandForum.net, a prostitution prevention website, the first "Dear John" letter campaign dates back to 1982 in Aberdeen, Maryland.

Since then, several other cities and police departments around the country have combined it with a media-shame campaign at one time or another. In 2012, there were 40 police departments using "Dear John" postcards. Other cities have even gotten even more creative with their public-shaming strategies.

In Baltimore County, Maryland, police there informed the suspect's entire community of his or her trial date and encouraged them to come watch. And in Corpus Christi, Texas, convicted johns had to put a "Stop Prostitution" bumper sticker on their car.

And in 2005, St. Louis tried it for a short while, to no great fanfare.

DemandForum.net, which is funded by the National Institute of Justice, says there isn't any statistical evidence that the "Dear John" postcards do any good. But they get some attention -- and they're cheap.

"As criminal-justice interventions go, Dear John letters are inexpensive, requiring just the initial drafting of the letters, and then perhaps fifteen minutes per letter to complete and less than $.50 per letter to mail," the organization's website says.

Although it's cheap and will probably dissuade at least a few potential johns, there are opponents of the practice.

Jeffrey Mittman, Executive Director of ACLU Missouri, says the public shaming policies flout a person's right to a fair trial before punishment is assessed.

"Providing a governmental notice to an individual's home where a spouse, sibling, parent, or child can see an indication that a government is alleging they're engaged in solicitation of prostitution or lascivious behavior when the individual has only been arrested is can clearly have potentially negative consequences on that family prior to that individual having been found guilty of any crime," Mittman tells us.

He adds: "The government should not be in the business of causing harm to families of individuals who have not been adjudicated and found guilty."

Another possible risk is that it causes more harm to prostitutes by pushing them further into the shadows, according to a 2001 study by the John Howard Society, a Canadian organization that deals with crime policy:

"Canadian cities that have implemented these techniques, it is believed to have had a negative effect on the prostitutes. This approach has done nothing but displace street prostitutes from one area to another, often to less visible and more dangerous areas. Violence against prostitutes also increased, as johns who were publicly humiliated, took their anger out on them."

Howard disagrees with this assessment.

"That's not a concern to me. These particular areas have been affected by prostitution for years and years," Harvey says. "I haven't seen any studies that displacing them, how that would put them in anymore danger than they are currently."

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E-mail him at Ray.Downs@RiverfrontTimes.com.

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