Slut-Shaming 'Johns' Shouldn't Be Sanctioned by Police

Public shaming in the Internet era can have lasting and wide-reaching effects.


Nassau County

As social media and "call out culture" elevate public shaming to a national pastime, many a hot take has been written on how this corrupts our political discourse. But barely acknowledged is the official use of online shaming by law enforcement. So it's great to see Suzy Khimm at The New Republic tackle this topic in depth as it relates to prostitution. 

Despite the tenet of "innocent until proven guilty" in American jurisprudence, police routinely release the names and mugshots of suspected criminals before they've been convicted. For some serious offenses, this might make sense, especially when public dispersal of the info could help in an investigation. But most people would probably agree that it's unfair to broadcast it everytime someone gets picked up for a petty offense. 

When it comes to prostitution, however, all decorum—and due process—tends to go out the window. Police will release pics of both sex workers and their clients to the media, who are all too willing to publish the photos. Outlets especially love to highlight whenever any of the "johns" works in some profession—professor, doctor, scientist—deemed too respectable for such shenanigans. 

"A slew of … cities have embraced john-shaming as a way to combat prostitution," writes Khimm. "Some have published the names and photos of accused johns upon arrest on designated web sites and social media, or in press conferences." (Some johns' mugshots have even been plastered on billboards.)

"Shame isn't just the side effect of catching and prosecuting criminals in an open society with an active press corps," notes Khimm, but an active end-goal of government agents. 

Tapping into the new power of the internet, along with our very old obsession with transgressive sex, these officials hope to wield the fear of public judgment in the name of the public good, arguing that prostitution is linked to far more serious crimes than we ever thought. But by taking punishment out of the hands of law enforcement and placing it in the hands of the public, whose emotions and reactions lie beyond their control, shaming campaigns can also be messy and unpredictable. And the resulting stigma can last indefinitely. … Or as Yale law professor James Whitman told me, shaming "allows the general public to do the dirty work."

Of course the debate over government shaming goes way back, with arguments over its sanction as old as our republic. But the Internet changes the nature of public shaming substantially. No longer will an offender only earn the gaze and opprobrium of his community members; now his or her name will long be associated with the offense for anyone anywhere who has Internet access. "The internet has vastly expanded the potential audience for public ridicule and turned the enforcement of social norms into a collective pastime, while Google's enduring memory can allow that infamy to continue without end," writes Khimm. 

One man Khimm spoke with, a scientist whose arrest on solicitation charges in Nassau County, New York, made major media headlines, was let go from one job and denied a promotion at another after word got out. He considered fighting the charges, but feared that would only get his name in the press more. But another of the johns arrested at the same time, pizzeria owner Louis DiMaria, is suing the county and several police officers, alleging false arrest, defamation, and a violation of his due process rights.

DiMaria was arrested in a sting after going with his friend to a hotel where—without his knowledge, DiMaria claims—the friend had arranged to hook-up with someone whom he thought was a sex worker but was actually a cop. Prosecutors eventually dropped the charges against DiMaria, but not before his name and picture were released to the media, he was let go from this position as a high-school wrestling coach, and his wife left him. 

Read Khimm's whole piece here for more about the havoc such ploys have wreaked and how police and prosecutors justify them (hint: it involves everyone's favorite moral panic du jour…). 

NEXT: The FDA Looks to Crack Down on Manure (Again)

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Content on a Saturday morning?

    Don’t you guys know that if it weren’t for the unions you wouldn’t have the weekend free?

    1. Somebody’s going to have to post a Chicago Shitshow article.

  2. Please change the headline: it’s “John-shaming,” not “slut-shaming” that’s the content of this article.

    1. Yeah, but John-shaming means something else on HnR. Fat women and Donald Trump are prominently involved.

      1. Ah, but these clients deserve what they got since they’re worse than Trump!

    2. Aw, leave John alone. He is still catching his breath from yesterday.

    3. The title means that police should not sanction the slut-shaming of johns. And, FYI, men can be sluts, too, Hitler.

      1. No, when men do it, they are playuhs.

        1. Or living the gay lifestyle.

    4. It’s not my fault my parents named me this!

      *runs away crying*

    5. I think ENB is trolling the anti-choice feminists with “slut-shaming”. Using their own term against them.

      1. And by “anti-choice”, I meant “choice-negative”.

  3. When I was a kid growing up, the morality police were the church ladies, who you mostly only had to see every Sunday when your parents forced you to attend church. Now the moral police are fucking everyone except libertarians who make up about 5% of the population at most. Libertarian moment!

    1. The people that will walk across the park to yell at you for not having a leash on your “terrifying dog”.

      1. Put your fucking dog on a leash for fuck’s sake. That is just being respectful to other people. Do you also not pick up his turds, because freedom?

        1. I don’t own a dog. I would pick up after one, but I fail to see how a nice friendly obedient dog off a leash is a travesty. Having a dog way in the corner of the park, away from people isn’t respectful?

        2. I live next to 1000 acres of state forest. There’s a lot of room for my dogs to do their business.

    2. When I was a kid growing up, the morality police were the church ladies,

      Well, feminists mature faster. They enter high school, skip all the intermediate stages of womanhood, and go right to frigid angry spinster stage.

      (Was that language sexist? If it offends you, educate me and suggest gender-neutral suggestions.)

  4. Despite the tenet of “innocent until proven guilty” in American jurisprudence, police routinely release the names and mugshots of suspected criminals before they’ve been convicted.

    Hey, that’s not fair. Often times they will hold dear the names of those whose crimes have not been proven in a court of law, and even keep secret any video evidence of said misdeeds. Of course, you have to yourself own a badge to be afforded such decorum, but…

    1. And they will even keep your cash and property in same ‘secret’ location.

    2. I came on here to say exactly the same thing.

      If only we had a “civilian” version of the police officers bill of rights…

      1. that’s crazy talk!

      2. I was recently riding my bike across the street at a leisurely pace with a green light and the walk sign clearly on. Meanwhile, Officer Dipshit is speeding down the road and takes an illegal left turn and almost runs me over – in fact, he would have if I hadn’t stopped right before the right lane; he broke too late any way. So I shake my head, go on my merry way. A few blocks later, Officer Dipshit (who looks to be about 23, younger than me even) pulls into the parking lot I’m about to drive by and almost hits me again, gets out of the car, starts burning my retinas out with that stupid flashlight of his, and says he’s going to write me a ticket! I am aghast, and point out that he almost killed me violating at least three traffic laws. He says: it doesn’t matter, because I was on a bike, and some fucking city ordinance means I was breaking the law by being on the sidewalk at all, and he’s going to write me up. Ultimately he lets me off with a warning though after “educating” me, and I have to sit there and listen to this kid who probably just flunked high school a couple years ago “educate” me. He probably hasn’t even been on the ‘force’ more than a year and he already knows he can do whatever the hell he wants.

        We have literally taken a sample of the dumbest quarter of the population and handed them all the municipal power and an unlimited budget.

  5. Oh no, the johns are being shamed! It may surprise you to know, but in some places all arrests are published. There are some rags that are nothing but arrest reports and photos.

  6. By analogy, if someone were to maintain a website that posted the face if every police officer accused of an IA complaint, that would be totally okay; right? I think I’ll write my state rep and request that site be maintained at the expense of each agency in my state.

  7. This is one of those areas where proggies and socons can join together to feel morally superior while using the power of the state to try and destroy the lives of transgressors.

      1. Working together to ostracize the impure.

      2. Bipartisanship! This is what the opposite of obstructionism looks like.

    1. Unfortunately, they seem to be agreeing more and more. Proggies used to be for free speech, but no more. Socons used to be for free trade, but no more. They are “all authoritarian, all the time” now.

    2. This is one of those areas where proggies and socons can join together to feel morally superior

      There are many such areas. Many European countries have Christian democrats and social democrats as their two major parties, and they pursue about the same policies.

      1. but for different reasons. dude. how is that not the most important part?

  8. link

    The Jacksonville PD is putting out meme-style press releases on Facebook with the suspect’s photos and personal info. Just seems incredibly tacky and inappropriate.

    1. My hometown one does that too. It’s petty, and in a town of a few thousand, everyone can know anyway. I prefer this one.

    2. If I ever own a business, I will single these guys out for hiring. I mean, you’ve probably got some great employees who would work harder for lower pay just out of appreciation for being willing to give them a job, despite having been caught red-handed having the ungodly perversion of liking pussy.

  9. It’s a fucking digital Iron Maiden for deviant individual consciousness blasted through binary foreverland. At least the goddamn iron and wood torture devices of the middle ages left individuals broken and dying alone in a shortened macabre peace. Modern cruelty has surmounted ancient terrors while a bored sun blisters its mundane rays through the variegated colored glass of evil righteousness and justice laced with carbon steel canines sharpened on the angst of hatred.

    1. Some of your best work yet, AC

    2. Yeah, up the irons!

  10. Speaking of prostitutes, guess who said this:

    “Our politics has become more like the comments section in blogs.”

    1. xaviera hollander?

  11. “The internet has vastly expanded the potential audience for public ridicule and turned the enforcement of social norms into a collective pastime, while Google’s enduring memory can allow that infamy to continue without end,” writes Khimm.

    Maybe this is different, but didn’t Europe try to do something about this only to be roundly booed around here?

    1. Germany/the EU is much more restrictive, granting more protection of privacy in criminal cases. This applies to investigations, as well as to reports after release (resocialization).Similarly in civil law (“right to be forgotten”). There are cases in which this breaks down; public interest is a factor.

      1. Who are you kidding? The German government and German publishers are exempt from any “right to be forgotten”. German “privacy” is a statist and protectionist charade.

        1. “Who are you kidding?” If anything, you are kidding yourself. Read: “much more”, “more”. I have not claimed absolute protection, nor did I endorse the system. Further, note the “similarly” in front of “civil law”. (Simple example: “Right to be forgotten by some” beats “no right to be forgotten”.) What I said stands, the standard is higher. Look into tort law (“allgemeines Pers?nlichkeitsrecht”). Look into public law, which regulates (restricts) the collecting and keeping of data by the German state (“Integrit?t informationstechnischer Systeme”; “Vorratsdatenspeicherung”). Worth noting that the French have recently instituted a kind of permanent martial law (in response to terrorist attacks), making – eg – searches possible that formerly required a judicial warrant.

          You may find the laws flawed (I agree), and the state illegitimate (complicated). That’s fine. Simply say that, instead of bothering me with your windmill fighting.

    2. while Google’s enduring memory can allow that infamy to continue without end,” writes Khimm.

      Google doesn’t have any “memory”; it’s a search engine. Going after Google doesn’t do anything to remove information about someone from the Internet. Khimm is an idiot.

      Maybe this is different, but didn’t Europe try to do something about this only to be roundly booed around here?

      What Europe tried to do was the equivalent of cutting out someone’s tongue when you really want to give them a lobotomy. If Europe wanted “to do something about it”, they’d have to go after newspaper archives and media companies. The anti-Google laws in Europe are simply attempts by existing media companies to kill off competition: pure cronyism.

  12. Some johns’ mugshots have even been plastered on billboards.

    Yeah, who’s paying for this use of ad space?

    1. You are, Fist, you are.

  13. “When it comes to prostitution, however, all decorum?and due process?tends to go out the window.”

    When it comes to sex. The asymmetric “rape shielding” of accusers is another instance.

    1. What is wrong with rape shielding?

      1. Technical term. Wrong: start with asymmetry (accused/accuser).

      2. It prevents a defendant from being able to confront his accuser and examine her credibility. And, if crowds are so wise as to be trusted with punishing johns surely they can be trusted to not inappropriately treat alleged victims of rape, right?

        It would, as sevens said, be more tolerable if shielding applied to the accused too. Otherwise, publicly shaming accused rapists is just an attempt at extrajudicial punishment by people who believe that no accused man could ever be innocent of rape. It defeats the purpose of the trial.

  14. Puh-leeze. If the police say you’re guilty, you are guilty. I’m pretty sure that’s how this country works.

    1. You would say that, Tulpa.

  15. It amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, and I think it probably amounts to inflicting a sentence on someone other than a judge (without trial)–unless the judge specifically sentences you to having your name on the web as a John.

    I think the same thing is true of most criminal convictions. Criminal convictions are part of the public record, but isn’t that because of our right to a public trial? We can wave our other rights: the right to a jury, the right to an attorney, the right to remain silent, the right not to testify in our own trial, etc.

    Why can’t we waive our right to a public trial, too?

    If a judge sentences you to be put on a public list of some sort, that’s another question. But why should being convicted of something automatically go onto the public record by default? If putting your name on the public record impacts your ability to find employment forever–then that’s a punishment.

    Like being in the same room with Tulpa is a punishment. I mean, if a judge sentences you to being in the same room with Tulpa, then, there’s the question of cruel and unusual punishment, still, but at least it’s the judge that sentenced you to something rather than the bureaucracy saying, “Well that’s our policy”.

    1. I agree that we should have the right to waive the right to a public truial, esxpecially as there is a large proportion of the populatgion that sadly equates accusations with guilt.

      The waiver should be contingent on a gag order on the defendant. Violation of this gag order would cancel the waiver.

      1. Defendants’ rights? Victim-hating rape apologist!

  16. Sounds like a pretty good plan to me dude.

  17. There’s a certain segment of society that particularly loves “sex crimes”. They watch Law and Order: SVU religiously and are thrilled reading about other people’s sex lives in People magazine. When the Ashley Madison lists were made public, they were spending hours going through Facebook finding if any “friends” were partakers. For them, publication of prostitutes and customers is a reminder that they live in a scandalous world, and it’s a window into one of the most private activities people do.

    The libertarian “public interest” in a public arrest record is enlisting the public’s watchful eye on holding the government accountable (I’m not convinced). But for everyone else, the “public interest” is enjoying the spectacle of people getting dragged through the mud.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.