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California Police Use Social Media To Out 'Johns'

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - Northern California law enforcement officials are turning to social media to combat prostitution by posting names of men arrested on solicitation charges.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Saturday that police departments in Oakland, Richmond, Fresno and elsewhere are posting names of suspected "johns" on Facebook, Twitter and on dedicated online sites.

Richmond police arrested 11 men on Thursday and posted their mug shots on the department's Facebook page.

"We intend to use social media to highlight those individuals who engage in this exploitive, risky and unlawful conduct," the Facebook post stated.

The Oakland Police Department in June launched a site that aims to "shame" so-called johns and pimps alike. When arrests are made, the Oakland police post photographs of the suspects on the site. Fresno launched a similar program modeled on Oakland's this summer as well.

Shaming suspects is not a new strategy, but area police have recently stepped up their efforts through social media and websites to combat prostitution and human trafficking.

Police hope the websites will serve as a deterrent. The sites also show the public that police take prostitution seriously.

Defense attorneys complain that the police are posting photographs of suspects that may ultimately be cleared of wrongdoing.

Giovanni Avila, 47, was one of the men arrested in Richmond on Thursday. Avila said he is wrongly accused.

"I think it's an invasion of privacy," Avila said. "That could hurt some people's lives and way of living."

Avila said he was bantering with two women about sex, but had no intention of engaging in prostitution. The women turned out to be undercover police.

Police defend the practice.

"It's a way of using the embarrassment card," said police Lt. Kevin Wiley, who helped create Oakland's website. "It can attack an individual's reputation. They are engaging in crimes that are beneath the surface, off the radar, a dirty little secret, (and) we expose that secret."


Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.

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