ShareThis Page
‘Sex purchasers’ publicly shamed |

‘Sex purchasers’ publicly shamed

The Los Angeles Times
Susan Kang Schroeder, pictured here, says Orange County's decision to post the mug shots of sex purchasers is aimed at curbing sex trafficking by scaring away potential customers. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Mark Gagan, a police captain in Richmond, Calif., thought he’d found an effective crime deterrent this fall when he posted mug shots of the men arrested in prostitution stings on the department’s Facebook page.

But what happened next shocked him. Although police listed the suspects’ names, Facebook users went onto the page to add their home addresses, workplaces, schools they attended and even graduation years.

“It went way beyond what I thought,” Gagan said, “and it gave me pause.”

Within 72 hours, he ordered the whole thing taken down.

Public shaming as a form of punishment goes back to the days of Puritan colonists. In recent years, it’s become a strategy for police departments targeting the sex trade.

In National City, Calif., authorities reportedly funneled the names of suspects to the local newspaper and, if the person was a teacher, a cop or in the military, notified employers. In Stockton, photos of those convicted were shown on a weekly cable “John TV” program.

But Orange County prosecutors are taking the tactic to another level: Asking every police agency in the county to hand over photographs of offenders so that they can be posted on the district attorney’s website under the heading “Sex Purchasers.”

The county’s largest city, Anaheim, home to Disneyland, has joined the effort and will publish the identities of those convicted.

In cities such as Fresno and Oakland, mug shots stay online for two weeks, but in Orange County, the men’s faces will remain posted indefinitely.

The effort is aimed at curbing sex-trafficking by scaring away potential customers, said Susan Schroeder, chief of staff for the district attorney.

“These men have to understand when they purchase a woman like she’s a commodity, they’re probably purchasing someone that has been trafficked,” Schroeder said. “They need to stop doing these things, and this is part of the consequences of the action.”

Orange County’s move is expected to heighten debate over whether public shaming is effective at reducing prostitution and whether it exposes johns to too much scrutiny.

Emma Andersson, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, said in an email that the aim of the criminal justice system should be rehabilitation, rather than “the banishment and isolation of individuals from a community.”

Prosecutors, however, argue that shaming brings a level of transparency to the secretive sex trade.

“All this crime that used to be behind closed doors, dark curtains, we’ve opened up and shed a light on it,” said San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos, whose office started publishing photos of johns in April 2013. “We need to hold these people responsible, and here’s a way to do it. I truly believe it’s working.”

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.