Prostitution #YXE: Getting caught buying sex lands johns a trip to school
Ten men line up at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning in a classroom with harsh fluorescent lighting.
“All of you are here for the same reason, you’ve formed a brotherhood. You’ve brought those who you love into this as well,” said Tony Schnare, a counselor and therapist who leads an eight-hour educational intervention.
The men have been caught with a prostitute and must attend this john school as part of getting their impounded vehicle back.
On the day of the school, each man carries a big wad of cash to pay the $500 fee. No one makes eye contact.
“These men have no idea what to expect,” said Alice Farness, a community activist who volunteers with the program.
There are 25 john school sessions each year in Saskatoon, with roughly 300 men required to complete the course. From truck drivers to doctors, nurses and farmers, there is no specific profile for a john – they range in age from early 20s to late 80s.
Sitting in a semi-circle at the front of the room with their essentials – a bottle of Pepsi, keys, packs of cigarettes – the group is given a run-down of the day. No hats, no cell phones, no drinking during the lunch break.
“This is your one chance to not get a criminal record,” said Schnare. A second offense will cost six months in jail.
“You’ll learn that the person you tried to buy services from is just that, a person,” he said.
One by one, each man is asked to share the story that landed him in the school.
The first to speak is in his late 50s, with a dark mustache and khaki pants. In a quiet voice he explains how he was in Saskatoon for a meeting, when he drove through the stroll to “price things out.”
All men nod in agreement that they circle around several times before stopping.
“You do know what women call you, right?” Schnare asks.
The term refers to men that drive around masturbating as they work up the courage to stop, he said.
It’s a ritual that Farness has witnessed countless times while patrolling the streets in her inner-city neighbourhood.
“You see a vehicle go around two or three times, you get out and you take their license plate number and you turn them in,” she said.
Another man speaking at the john school seemed to act on impulse.
“I seen this one with red hair, I was attracted to her and I stopped,” he said.
“It was my choice and it was a stupid one,” said another john.
All the men agree that they got a bad feeling when they were driving through the stroll — they say they knew it was wrong, but followed through anyway.
“These girls represent little more than a Kleenex for you. You use them, disgraced them and on you go with your life,” Schnare said.
One of the men in the room, fidgeting in his seat, admits to using prostitutes every three or four days.
An officer from the vice unit arrives with a blunt message for the offenders, they are lucky.
Const. Rob Sampson passes around a bag that contains needles, spoons, bear spray, knives, an ice pick and a screwdriver.
“Simply put, most of these people are armed,” he said, about the women the johns pick up.
A sexual health nurse follows with a graphic presentation on sexually transmitted infections.
After lunch, Schnare digs deeper with the group, looking for the real reason why they bought sex.
A brainstorming session fills the white board with ideas – gratification, acceptance, attention, not getting enough, not good enough, physical affection, and sense of belonging.
“The transformation is that they’ll go out and talk to their buddies. They’ll change their mindset that seems to think that they’re entitled to sex and they’re entitled to get it no matter where they get it or how they get it,” Farness said, about the goal of the session.
She doesn’t agree with those who say prostitution is the oldest profession in the world.
“It’s not a profession, it is oppression and as long as men have been around it has been around,” Farness said.
Annette, a former prostitute, addressed the group of johns at the school. Looking each of them in the eye, she shares from the heart how men like them have left her broken and empty.
For more on Annette and her life working as a prostitute check back tomorrow for part four of Prostitution #YXE
For more Prostitution #YXE:
Part One: Underage sex sells in the city
Part Two: Seeing sex work through the eyes of VICE
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