Longueuil police want classes, not jail-time for clients soliciting sex

Longueuil police want to put forward a new approach to curb sexual exploitation: "John school."

It's a seminar to teach "Johns" — a term for those accused of soliciting prostitution — about the realities of the sex trade and human trafficking. 

After being apprehended by police, the accused would pay a fine to attend the one-day course. If they pass, they would avoid criminal prosecution and would not receive a criminal record, as long as they do not re-offend.

Similar programs exist in other provinces and in parts of the United States, Fady Dagher, the chief of Longueuil police, told CBC Daybreak.

"It looks like it works very well. Only 7 per cent of the people [re-offend]," he said. "So for us it's a no-brainer to try it."

The program would only available to first-time offenders and Dagher said it could cut down on repeat offences.

'Sensitizing' the clients

Dagher said the goal of the course was to explain the reality of sex trafficking to the clients, and how their solicitation might be harming the woman they think they're paying.

"There will be young girls testifying about they felt when the client touched them," Dagher said. "It gets very emotional. Because sometimes the clients thinks because they're paying, [the girl] is OK with it."

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Dagher said the course also touches on sexually transmitted diseases, what will happen if they are caught soliciting sex again, and offers resources to those who might need it.

"Those people sometimes go through stress … life, divorce, and all that," Dagher said, which can lead them to soliciting a sex worker without thinking of the consequences.

Dagher said he's heard from sceptics who think the approach is too easy on the offenders, but that he's willing to try the new approach.

"We have been trying the same way for so many years, why don't we try a different way?" he said.

Dagher said he also wants to see more education for young boys in schools, who may eventually visit strip clubs and massage parlors without thinking critically about what they are engaging in.

"Society has to change the way we see young girls," Dagher said.

The "John school" would not be available to those who solicit underage victims.

Looking for partners

Dagher said the seminar would not replace other initiatives targeting pimps or offering support to victims, but said that there needs to be a multi-faceted approach.

"We have to work equally on the pimp, equally on the client and equally on the victim," he said.

"If you work only on the pimp, the clients will still be there. The demand continues to be there. And the offer of the young girls is going to be there."

He said they're looking for institutional partners to help them adapt a John school program to Quebec.

So far, he has not heard whether or not the Quebec government would support the initiative.

"We're still working with them, we're still working with different partners but I'm hoping it's going to happen," he said.

"I have a lot of hope."