First Offender Prostitution Program (FOPP)

Introduction

The First Offender Prostitution Program (FOPP), also known as ‘john school’, is a court diversion program that seeks to curb the demand for commercial sexual exploitation in the San Francisco Bay Area by reducing recidivism among those who solicit prostitution. This White Paper will cover the history and design of the FOPP, as well as its philosophical underpinnings and educational objectives. As one of the original founders of this world-renowned program, SAGE seeks to shed light on the value of this model as a demand reduction strategy and address any misconceptions about the nature of such restorative justice programs.

History

San Francisco Police Department Lieutenant Joe Dutto, Assistant District Attorney and later California Superior Court Judge Terri Jackson, and Norma Hotaling, founder of the SAGE (Standing Against Global Exploitation) Project designed the First Offender Prostitution Program (FOPP) in March 1995.  Each brought to the table a unique perspective on the negative and harmful effects of the commercial sex industry on consumers, providers, and the neighborhoods in which transactions occurred. All had grown tired of the “revolving door” policies that failed to address the problems created by the sex industry and decided to come together to find solutions.  Motivated by the desire for lasting change, they found unity in the shared belief that an effective and progressive strategy lay in education as opposed to punishment or shame.

FOPP was designed to be a one of a kind diversion program for those arrested for the first time as solicitors of prostitution. Only one program pre-dates the FOPP: The Restorative Justice Program for Prostitution Patrons (RJPPP). Developed in 1988 out of St. Paul, Minnesota, RJPPP served as an inspiration for the FOPP although the program takes a different structural approach to implementation.   For its ingenuity and proven success rates, FOPP is recognized as a national model for demand reducing strategies.  According to a study released in 2008 by Abt Associates, nine sites have since replicated the FOPP, 25 sites have developed programs that use the SAGE FOPP as a model, and 20 additional sites have implemented john school programs that are dissimilar to the FOPP. [1]  Current numbers of functioning “john schools” throughout the country are unknown.

Today, the FOPP runs consistently every eight weeks as it has for the past 18 years.  SAGE, the San Francisco Police Department and the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office remain the three primary implementing partners and receive support only through fees collected from the offenders who are participants in the FOPP.  In earlier years, there was additional funding provided through the Department of Public Health and other sources. The Program was designed to be a self-sustaining model where participant fees are used to fund the expenses of the FOPP as well as SAGE’s Early Intervention Prostitution Program, (EIPP), the trauma recovery program for those arrested on prostitution offenses. However, due to rising costs and lower arrest rates, SAGE, in particular, has found it can no longer rely solely on FOPP fees in San Francisco to fund the EIPP or additional trauma healing services.

Philosophy

FOPP was founded on the theory that if male consumers had a better understanding of the risks and impact of their behavior when soliciting prostitution, they would cease to do so.  To achieve this, the founders embraced fact-based education and rejected a guilt or shame-based approach.  Understanding that everyone has different motivations, triggers and fears that inspire them to act, FOPP utilizes a variety of perspectives so that consumers are exposed to a range of experts who engage with the issue from different angles.  This approach, the founders believed, would deliver a holistic understanding of the commercial sex industry that would empower sustained behavior change for a diverse set of individuals. [2] 

Issues involving the sex industry are extremely sensitive in nature.  The terminology used in each module of the training program seeks to accurately reflect the experiences of those whose lives have been affected by involvement in the sex industry. The language is compassionate, empathetic and non-judgmental in nature.

FOPP is based on a restorative justice principle that every individual has the capacity to take responsibility for behavior that is harmful to others in their community.  Taking responsibility requires:

  • Understanding how behaviors affect other human beings (not just the courts or officials).
    Acknowledging that the behavior results from a choice that could have been made differently.
    Acknowledging to all affected that the behavior is harmful to others.
    Taking action to repair the harm when possible.
    Making changes necessary to avoid such behavior in the future. [3]

The FOPP model educates consumers on the harmful effects their actions have on themselves, those engaged in the sex industry, and their community.  In San Francisco, participant fees are split equally between the three founding partners.  SAGE allocates the majority of its portion to fund comprehensive trauma and addiction recovery services for women arrested on prostitution charges.  The FOPP, therefore, addresses the full spectrum of restorative justice values and principles.

Design and Objectives

The FOPP allows persons charged with 647(a), 647(b) or section 653.22 of the California Penal Code who have had no prior adult criminal contact, to bypass the court system by participating in a one-day course and paying a sliding scale administrative fee of $350 to $1000. [4]  (This fee structure is currently requiring review in order to keep in line with other fee-based diversion strategies.) The program is now offered in Santa Clara County and the administrative fee paid is on a sliding scale of $700-$2000 with all fees going directly to the SAGE Project. (Many communities look at the fees in comparison with fees for first offense DUI’s.) Santa Clara County has been offering the program for the past two years and sends buyers to the San Francisco class.

The FOPP specifically targets first time offenders as a means of early intervention and seeks to dispel common misconceptions about who enters the commercial sex industry, why they enter it, and how it is experienced.  The course occurs every six to eight weeks at the Hall of Justice and is facilitated by staff members of the SAGE Project along with guest presenters from the District Attorney’s Office, the SFPD, volunteer nurses, members of anonymous groups for sex addicts, a resident from an affected neighborhood, and two to four survivors of sexual exploitation and/or the sex industry.

FOPP seeks to achieve the following learning objectives:

  • Expose consumers to prevalent myths and facts about the commercial sex industry.
  • Educate consumers on the interconnectedness of oppression, violence, and the objectification of other human beings.
  • Provide information on trauma and early sexual abuse.
  • Provide information on healthy relationships and creating resources within oneself.
  • Explore forms of human trafficking and its intersections with sex industry.
  • Educate consumers on the legal implications of future solicitation arrests.
  • Educate consumers on the health risks of engaging with someone in prostitution.
  • Broaden consumers’ perspective on their personal role in fueling the global sex trade.

Learning objectives are achieved over the course of an 8-hour day using lecture format with time for questions and discussion.

Over the past 18 years, the Program has dramatically improved San Francisco Bay Area communities and offered cost savings in criminal justice and health and human service systems.  As an alternative to prosecution, FOPP reduces demand on overburdened courtrooms.  As an intervention program, FOPP addresses root causes of sex consumer behavior, reducing repetitive arrests.  As a prevention program, FOPP provides tools for consumers to examine and question future behavior; providing opportunities for new and different choices in decision making. As a rehabilitation program, FOPP reduces incarcerations and dependency on public legal assistance. And, rather than simply adding new policing and prosecution costs, FOPP generates revenues through consumer fines that offset program budgets including trauma healing services for women, transgendered women and girls.

In 2005, through funding from the National Institute of Justice and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Abt Associates Inc. conducted an evaluation of the FOPP aimed specifically at determining the program’s effectiveness, return on investment, and transferability.  Cost and revenue figures for administering the program along with additional data on recidivism rates and can be found in the footnoted link. [5]

The final evaluation report was released in March 2008.  It found that the FOPP:

  • Is well conceived and based upon a logically sound model.
  • Has been implemented as intended.
  • Has been organizationally stable and sustainable.
  • Has been effective in substantially reducing recidivism among men arrested for soliciting those engaged in the sex industry.
  • Is cost-effective, operating for over 12 years at no cost to taxpayers and generating nearly $1 million for recovery programs for providers of commercial sex.
  • Is transferable, having been successfully replicated in 12 other U.S. sites and adapted in over 25 additional domestic sites over the past decade.

Conclusion

The FOPP and SAGE’s trauma recovery program, EIPP, are highly successful programs that must be sustained in the face of economic challenges.  Presently, SAGE facilitates FOPP and EIPP services for Santa Clara County as well as San Francisco County. Additional California counties and communities throughout the country have approached SAGE for assistance in the implementation of an FOPP. SAGE provides replication assistance and training on program implementation and can provide facilitation of the program for neighboring counties. A thorough assessment of demand strategies and community awareness must coincide with the offering of an FOPP and EIPP. Decisions also need to be made on how arrests and sting operations will take place.

Currently, in San Francisco, FOPP stings tend to arrest those soliciting street prostitution in lower socioeconomic areas of the city.  Demographically, these men tend to have lower incomes thus FOPP fails to target a higher profile clientele who solicit over the Internet or via personal networks.  Focusing on a specific geographic location within the city also could give the appearance of a skewed representation of one ethnic group, race or socioeconomic profile. Increasing the focus on Internet sting operations would be a positive next step in San Francisco toward diversifying the program’s target base, particularly those with higher incomes and means.  In general, staying up to date technologically with how sex is bought and sold is critical to the FOPP’s long-term success and viability.  Santa Clara County appears to vary its operations and thus a different and more varied demographic is represented.  

With one out of every five or six men in the United States admitting to purchasing sex, it is clear that solicitation is not the behavior of just a small minority of deviants. [6]  Studies indicate that male consumers of sex are similar to the general population and quite unlike most populations of criminal offenders. [7]  With these facts in mind, it should come as no surprise that behavioral and social change is possible by awakening individuals to the impact and consequences of their actions. Further, partnerships between law enforcement, community and neighborhood groups, health services and social service organizations greatly enhances public safety and promote a community that values all members of society for their inherent worth.  FOPP fosters this change and raises the bar for a San Francisco Bay Area that has been often applauded for its progressive policies.

Mollie Ring, Consultant, SAGE Project
Ellyn Bell, Executive Director, SAGE Project
December, 2012

Revised October 2013
Ellyn Bell, Executive Director, SAGE Project

  1. Final Report on the Evaluation of the First Offender Prostitution Program, Abt Associates:  http://nicic.gov/Library/023069