Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



An interstate billboard warns visitors to La Mesa, California: "Attention johns: We take pictures." In 1994, to widespread political accolades, the city initiated a policy of publishing names and pictures of prostitutes' patrons in local newspapers. La Mesa is not alone. If nightmares about the revelation of the contents of Heidi Fleiss's little black book sent shivers down the spines of Hollywood's rich and fa- mous, the tremors have traveled through La Mesa and sent similar shudders across the nation. The anonymous sex once so sought-after for its secrecy has been slapped up on billboards as communities, desperate to disinfect their crime-ridden streets, expose solicitors' secret sins to sunlight.

Critics of this practice raise questions about effectiveness and cost. City attorneys and public defenders pose questions about its constitutionality. Newspapers worry about civil liability. Editorials call it inhumane, disproportionate. But police insist that nothing else has worked, and community groups figure perhaps it's worth a try. Past john-shaming schemes, however, have not been without costs. In 1994, a paper in New Jersey listed a young engineer among other prostitution arrestees. The recent widower and father of three killed himself when he saw his name in the paper. Perhaps it's worth answering some questions before giving john-shaming a try.