John Schools: A practical, cost-effective way to reduce demand

Posted by on October 5, 2016 in Success Stories, Updates
VAN NUYS, CALIFORNIA – Attendees sit in a once a month Johns School offered by the Los Angeles City Attorney's office in an effort to reduce the demand for prostitution. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

VAN NUYS, CALIFORNIA – Attendees sit in a once a month Johns School offered by the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office in an effort to reduce the demand for prostitution. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

The first step toward ending the harms inherent to the illegal sex trade, including sex trafficking, is to stop the demand for paid sex. Why? Because if there were no buyers, there would be no illegal sex business—and all the violence and exploitation that go with it would disappear.

Eliminating demand is no small task.  Lawmakers and police have tried many different approaches to deter buyers, some more successful than others. One of the most promising tactics is sending convicted sex buyers to a “john school.” John schools are programs, some as brief as a few hours, others as intense as 10 weeks, designed to teach buyers why their behavior is both exploitative and dangerous. Their curricula vary, but the vast majority of courses focus on educating buyers on the negative consequences of their behavior: the many ways the illegal sex trade hurts prostituted women and trafficked children, the risks buyers pose to themselves and their families every time they chose to purchase sex, and the exploitation and crime they fund by allowing prostitution to flourish in their local communities.

Major topics covered include:

  • Anger management
  • Demonstrating how prostitution can increase human trafficking
  • Discussion of healthy relationships
  • Coping with sexual addiction

One of the most impressive john schools is a groundbreaking program in Seattle. Operated by the Organization for Prostitution Survivors and headed by Peter Qualliotine,  it’s a shining example of how powerful john schools can be when designed correctly. Rather than simply shock attendees with horror stories, this intensive 10-week program helps buyers look deep within in order to identify the true motivations behind their actions. Qualliotine promotes self-examination and reflection so buyers can process their own emotions and motives—a tactic that has led to permanent behavior change in many other fields. And according to his students, it’s working. In post-course exit surveys, every single attendee has reported a change in how he thinks about commercial sex, including a deeper understanding that prostituted women are victims of exploitation, and a reversal of the previously held belief that men have a right to buy sex. In fact, 95% his graduates say they don’t think they’ll ever buy sex again. (An additional benefit: Qualliotine’ s program is paid for by fines collected from convicted sex-buyers, with half of the fees being used to fund support services for survivors. It’s restorative justice in its purest form.)

Peter gives a talk on role men can take in ending commercial sexual exploitation

Peter gives a talk on role men can take in ending commercial sexual exploitation

And Qualliotine isn’t the only one seeing positive results. According to a 2002 study published in the Canadian Journal of Criminology, men who attended john schools were more likely to accept responsibility for their actions, and admitted to a greater understanding of the negative impacts of the illegal sex. In addition, a 2004 study published in The Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, found men who attended a john school experienced positive changes in attitude towards prostituted people, and a reversal in their previously held beliefs that purchasing sexual services was acceptable. A report funded by the Department of Justice in 2008 showed one-year recidivism rates fell by 40% after convicted sex buyers in San Francisco were forced to attend a john school.

One of the best aspects of john schools? They’re usually funded by fines paid by convicted buyers. They’re self-sustainable and not a drain on taxpayer dollars.

But that’s not to say they’re a silver bullet for solving this issue. A 2002 study published in Western Criminology Review, shows there was no difference in two-year recidivism rates between those who went to john school and a control group who did not attend, and that a majority of those interviewed reported no significant change in their plans to buy prostituted people again.

Still, given their promising ability to deter and educate sex-buyers, john schools are becoming increasingly common. With adequate investment and commitment, more and more of these schools will utilize Qualliotine’s thorough and thoughtful approach, which should result in major reductions of commercial sexual exploitation throughout the nation.

There are now over 60 separate john school programs in the U.S. that serve well over 100 cities and counties. For a full list, see the table below. Learn more on about john schools and other demand reduction efforts at, or by downloading their full summary on the practice.

Site State Type Population
Appleton, WI Wisconsin City 70017
Aurora, IL Illinois City 197899
Bossier City, LA Louisiana City 61801
Boynton Beach, FL Florida City 67908
Brooklyn, NY New York City 2527010
Buffalo, NY New York City 272632
Charlotte, NC North Carolina City 671588
Chicago, IL Illinois City 2836658
Cincinnati, OH Ohio City 332458
Cleveland, OH Ohio City 438042
Columbus, OH Ohio City 747755
Dallas, TX Texas City 1240499
Dayton, OH Ohio City 155461
Delray Beach, FL Florida City 64112
Denver, CO Colorado City 588349
Dover, DE Delaware City 35811
Eau Claire, WI Wisconsin City 64980
Erie County, NY New York City 913338
Everett, WA Washington City 98295
Fife, WA Washington City 9235
Fresno, CA California City 510365
Grand Rapids, MI Michigan City 193627
Greenville, SC South Carolina City 58754
Hartford, CT Connecticut City 124563
Henrico County, VA Virginia County 296415
Hillsborough County, FL Florida City 1170518
Indianapolis, IN Indiana City 795458
Jackson County, KS Kansas County 13348
Kansas City, MO Missouri City 450375
King County, WA Washington County 1850714
La Crosse, WI Wisconsin 50719
Lakewood, WA Washington City 57231
Las Vegas, NV Nevada City 558880
Lenexa, KS Kansas City 48190
Los Angeles, CA California City 3834340
Madison, WI Wisconsin City 228775
Memphis, TN Tennessee City 674028
Miami, FL Florida City 409719
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota City 377392
Murfreesboro, TN Tennessee City 114038
Nashville, TN Tennessee City 590807
Nassau County, NY New York County 1353061
New Hanover County, NC North Carolina County 190104
New Orleans, LA Louisiana City 354850
Newburgh, NY New York City 28201
Newport News, VA Virginia City 179153
Norfolk , VA Virginia City 235747
Oklahoma City, OK Oklahoma City 547274
Olmsted County, MN Minnesota County 144248
Omaha, NE Nebraska City 424482
Orange County, NY New York County 376405
Palm Beach County, FL Florida County 1266451
Philadelphia, PA Pennsylvania City 1449634
Phoenix, AZ Arizona City 1552259
Pierce County, WA Washington County 773105
Pinellas County, FL Florida City 914444
Pittsburgh, PA Pennsylvania City 311218
Portland, OR Oregon City 550396
Richmond, VA Virginia City 200123
Rochester, MN Minnesota City 110742
Rochester, NY New York City 206759
Roseville, MN Minnesota City 32474
Salt Lake City, UT Utah City 180651
Salt Lake County, UT Utah County 1005245
San Antonio, TX Texas City 1328984
San Diego, CA California City 1266731
San Francisco, CA California City 764976
Santa Clara, CA California City 109756