Greg bought sex for over 30 years. Now a reformed john, Greg (name changed for this article) attended the Sex Trade Offender Program (STOP), a post-court diversion program, formerly known as john school. He explained the program is pivotal to breaking the “habit” of buying sex.
Rather than shame the johns, speakers (such as psychologists, former sex trade workers, and the mother of a murder victim) and organizers encourage the participants to consider harmful attitudes and actions and to understand the devastation wreaked upon exploited sex trade workers, some of whom are children.
To have the community message come from a woman who may very well represent their own wives, mothers, sisters, or daughters carries a lot of weight. Rebecca Lippiatt, a photographer, is that woman.
Greg said, “Rebecca represented everyone I have possibly harmed. I hung my head in shame as she spoke. The joy she had speaking about her kids stuck with me.”
Lippiatt asked the johns to imagine explaining to your three- and four-year-old sons that condoms are not balloons and must not be touched. Then imagine teaching your sons how to identify drug kit paraphernalia and the vital importance of not even kicking at such items. This was no imaginary scenario, but reality for her when out walking or visiting playgrounds with her boys.
Another reality check happened while pushing her sons in a stroller. “A john almost ran us down when lowering my stroller onto the street,” said Lippiatt.
The john stopped for a ragged, street-seasoned couple with their shopping cart of possessions, then picked up the woman and took her into an alley.
These experiences are why Lippiatt speaks at STOP. Awareness, for both the johns and the public, is key to stopping the sex trade. When johns without prior convictions of violence are caught and charged with attempting to buy sex services, they may choose to attend STOP. The curriculum is continually under revision with feedback from participants and psychologists.
Kate Quinn, director of Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) says the goal at STOP “is to educate, inform, and build empathy.”
Greg, busted last year, has twice attended STOP. “The john school subtly forces you to do inner reflection. Invited to speak personally, I focused on what brought me there, to go deeper than being caught breaking the law.”
Some of the participants attending with Greg were arrested their first time buying sex. “I had been buying sex workers for the last 35 years. Not a proud item on my CV. I ran out of second chances. Do I keep doing this or is this the final wake up call I needed?”
He explained he had a relatively normal youth, with the exception of volatile arguments with his dad to which Greg coped by destroying his art. “I struggled with weight and used food as a crutch and pacifier in good times. When guilt set in after buying a hooker, I also used food as a kind of self-destructive mechanism.”
He now better understands his life path. “You can reward yourself with good or bad behaviour, for example comfort food. There is a line between what you need to sustain and what is overkill, likewise with things like sexual gratification. There is a line between physical meaningless sexual gratification and something more spiritual where it matters.”
He added, “Rebecca had a huge effect on me. It seemed as if she was talking directly to me and it kicked in my empathy.” Greg asked to speak with Lippiatt. “I really heard what you said, and I wanted to say I’m sorry.”
How does Greg know he will not purchase sex again? “I’ve had my second chances. The come-to-Jesus moments aren’t always epiphanies. They can be quite subtle.”
The program is a good beginning. Once those who buy sex know what they are doing is wrong and why, there is an opening for true change. Groups and therapists are just a few of the resources CEASE can refer people to for help.
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Featured Image: STOP helps people understand the consequences of buying sex. | Pixabay