DENVER (AP) - A proposed prostitution crackdown in Colorado focuses on customers.
The state Senate started work Monday on a bill that would promote a statewide network of so-called "john schools" -- "scared straight" type programs for men who solicit sex from adult prostitutes.
First-time offenders could avoid jail by entering a diversion program in which they'd learn about human trafficking. Other topics: How most prostitutes start as young as age 13 and have very short life spans. Former prostitutes would share their stories.
Advocates say john schools reduce recidivism because prostitutes' overwhelmingly male clients have deep misconceptions about how sexy they think prostitution is. Clients also often believe prostitutes are imported from other countries.
"Ninety-nine percent come from Denver. They do not come from Mexico or Southeast Asia. They're our girls, our Denver middle school girls," said Boulder attorney Beth Klein, a prominent advocate for john schools.
Last year, Klein pushed for a human trafficking law that added the sex trade to Colorado's Organized Crime Act.
"What we really want to have people do is go to these schools and be so transformed by the seriousness of this that they don't do it again," Klein said.
Klein and Senate President Brandon Shaffer, the bill's sponsor, want to see Colorado increase penalties for buying sex. Shaffer says the fine should be $10,000, with the money going to municipalities that want to set up john schools and treatment for sex workers.
Colorado currently classifies soliciting sex a petty offense, below a misdemeanor, with fines as low as $75 -- less than littering in some cases. People convicted of solicitation aren't required to register as sex offenders.
Shaffer's bill doesn't require john schools but outlines a framework for a possible state network of john schools for jurisdictions that want them. Denver created a version of a john school in the late 1990s but closed it because of low numbers of johns and lack of funding, Klein said.
Large cities in other states have john schools credited with decreasing recidivism -- including Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Texas lawmakers are considering a statewide john school proposal similar to Shaffer's.
Shaffer pointed out that johns who solicit underage prostitutes would not be eligible because child prostitution is a much more serious crime under existing law. He said a major goal of his bill is to increase fines so that cash-strapped municipal police forces have an incentive to go after johns and send them to treatment.
"This is a good tool, but it's not going to eliminate the problem," Shaffer said of john schools.
The bill has the support of Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett, who said higher fines and a statewide john school effort could bring more aggressive enforcement of prostitution laws.
'What we're really trying to do is cut down on the enormous public harm that comes from human trafficking," Garnett said.
- By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer
Link: Senate Bill 85
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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