Zumba prostitution probe spotlights idea of shaming johns

Alexis Wright is accused of operating a prostitution business out of her Zumba studio in Kennebunk, secretly videotaping her encounters and keeping meticulous records of her clients. Police plan to release more than 100 names over the next several weeks. The warning has set off a flurry of rumors among residents who say they
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Alexis Wright is accused of operating a prostitution business out of her Zumba studio in Kennebunk, secretly videotaping her encounters and keeping meticulous records of her clients. Police plan to release more than 100 names over the next several weeks. The warning has set off a flurry of rumors among residents who say they
Posted Oct. 20, 2012, at 5:25 a.m.

Memphis police detectives with the Organized Crime Unit vice team worked into the early morning hours on Thursday, posing as “johns” in a sting that netted at least 17 women arrested and charged with committing prostitution near a church or a school.

Hours later, real “johns,” men charged with patronizing prostitution, attended a $75 “At Risk Behavior Class” at the Criminal Justice Center in Downtown Memphis.

Completing the four-hour class — with speakers from the Health Department, Memphis Police Department, University of Memphis and the Ryan White Program on HIV/AIDS — and paying court costs usually will allow the men to have the charge dismissed, said Patrick Stegall, a Memphis attorney.

The slow release of the identities of alleged “johns” in a sensational prostitution investigation in Maine last week has raised the issue of whether publicly spotlighting the customers of prostitution can help combat the crime. In the Kennebunk, Maine, case, police have accused a dance instructor with running a prostitution business at her Zumba dance studio.

A study released in April, ” A National Overview of Prostitution and Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Efforts,” found that more than 800 cities and counties nationwide address the demand side of prostitution — rather than the supply side fueled by prostitutes and pimps — by targeting sex customers.

“Shaming” arrested johns by publicizing their identities through the media, police websites, billboards and other means is one of a dozen tactics that the report found and is chronicling on a website, DemandForum.net.

For a few months in 2002, the Shelby County District Attorney General’s Office partnered with WMC-TV Channel 5 to broadcast identities of people convicted of prostitution and patronizing prostitution as part of an anti-crime marketing campaign. The joint venture ended when the money ran out, said Shelby County Dist. Atty. Amy Weirich.

“On a general principle, it certainly can’t hurt anything,” she said. “It’s public record when somebody is arrested.”

For a five-year period dating back from Wednesday, patronizing prostitution charges made up about one in four of all Memphis police prostitution-related charges, according to department statistics. Prostitutes faced charges in three out of four arrests.

The Memphis department does not spotlight patronizing prostitution arrests.

“We do not publicize ‘johns’ names, although they are public record if someone would like to obtain the information,” Sgt. Karen Rudolph, a spokeswoman for the department, said by email.

The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office in September highlighted about 90 men wanted for patronizing prostitution, dating back to 2007, on its Facebook page, facebook.com/ShelbyTNSheriff, according to Det. Mickey Keaton.

But the media, including The Commercial Appeal, don’t routinely identify johns.

“The newspaper certainly doesn’t condone prostitution,” said Chris Peck, Commercial Appeal editor.

“We also don’t condone illegal drug consumption, drunken outbursts at bars, road rage, or being a bad neighbor. But we simply don’t have the space or manpower to cover every bad decision or bad act in our community. We have to pick and choose. And that’s the bottom line, honestly, of why we don’t routinely publicize arrests and convictions for men who patronize prostitutes.

“At the same time, if a particularly newsworthy event occurs that involves a prostitute and a john, we can and will cover the event,” he said. “And, we know that those arrested for patronizing prostitutes do have their names and often their photos listed on law enforcement websites, so we can, and do, routinely check those records to make sure we are aware of those who are engaged in this activity.”

Deborah Clubb, executive director of the Memphis Area Women’s Council and a former reporter for The Commercial Appeal, said that the marketplace for prostitution would not be there if men weren’t out there buying it.

As long as those who are innocent of the charge are protected, Clubb said she favors a multilayered approach, including publicity for johns to attack the prostitution.

“I would love to do anything more than we’re doing now to get at the marketplace,” she said.

Prostitution-related arrests

For the five years stretching back from Wednesday to Oct. 17, 2007, Memphis police made about 5,760 prostitution-related arrests, an average of 1,150 a year, according to statistics provided by the department. Of that five-year total:

  • About 45 percent were charged with prostitution, a Class B misdemeanor that could bring up to six months behind bars.
  • Nearly 30 percent were charged with prostitution within 100 feet of a church or within 1 1/2 miles of a school, a Class A misdemeanor that could bring up to 11 months and 29 days. The penalty near schools includes a mandatory minimum seven days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
  • About 24 percent were charged with patronizing prostitution, a Class B misdemeanor.
  • About two-tenths of 1 percent, a total of about 10 charges, were for patronizing prostitution near a church or school, the Class A misdemeanor with the mandatory minimums.
  • About 1.5 percent were promoting prostitution charges, which usually apply to alleged pimps, and is a Class E felony carrying a penalty of one to two years.

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(c)2012 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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