Bay Area law enforcement officials are turning to Facebook and Twitter to combat prostitution by posting names and photos of men arrested on solicitation charges.
Police departments that have taken to shaming "johns" on social media include Oakland, Richmond and Fresno.
The move has garnered some controversy, with lawyers and legal experts worrying that defendants who might be ultimately innocent could see their reputations tarnished because of the postings, SFGate reported.
Richmond Police arrested 11 men on Thursday and posted their mug shots on the department's Facebook page. The move garnered kudos from people, with some saying that more departments should be using social media in the same way.
The “johns” were arrested for soliciting prostitution from undercover police officers, Richmond police said. Residents and business owners who live in the area asked Richmond police to address the human trafficking problem in their neighborhood, police said, adding that additional stings will be conducted on a regular basis.
The Richmond Police Department explained in its Facebook post that it focuses on the pimps and johns who often exploit and abuse vulnerable people, including victims of human trafficking, sexual abuse and intimidation – some as young as 12 or 13.
“We intend to use social media to highlight those individuals who engage in this exploitive, risky, and unlawful conduct,” the post said.
The Oakland Police Department in June launched a new site that aims to “shame'' so-called Johns and pimps alike. When arrests are made, the Oakland police post photographs of the suspects on the site, with the note that "they are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law."
Giovanni Avila, 47, was one of the men arrested in Richmond on Thursday. Avila said he is wrongly accused, the Associated Press reported.
"I think it's an invasion of privacy,'' Avila said. "That could hurt some people's lives and way of living.''
Avila said he was bantering with two women about sex, but had no intention of engaging in prostitution. The women turned out to be undercover police.
Police defend the practice.
"It's a way of using the embarrassment card,'' said police Lt. Kevin Wiley, who helped create Oakland's website. "It can attack an individual's reputation. They are engaging in crimes that are beneath the surface, off the radar, a dirty little secret, (and) we expose that secret.''
Fresno launched a similar program modeled on Oakland's this summer as well.
Police hope the websites will serve as a deterrent. The websites also show the public that police take prostitution seriously.