E-Pillory

A couple centuries ago, the system of punishment for crimes was frequently predicated on the notion of embarrasment:  Get caught breaking the law, and ...
by | June 22, 2005

A couple centuries ago, the system of punishment for crimes was frequently predicated on the notion of embarrasment:  Get caught breaking the law, and you'll get locked in stocks for a day.  All the townsfolk can get a good look at you and have a good laugh.  Maybe chuck a tomato or two at you.

Some cities have now brought that concept into the digital age (sans tomatoes, I suppose).  The city of Chicago has begun posting the names and photographs of alleged "johns," people who solicit prostitutes, on a city-run website.  The idea is to incorporate public shame into the punishment (which already includes arrest and the impoundment of your car) for soliciting a sex worker.

Chicago's not the first city to do this: Oakland puts convicted solicitors' faces on billboards. Denver broadcasts johns' personal information on public-access television. And the "Operation John Be Gone" website in Akron, OH, is the most popular page on the city police site by far.  But Chicago does differ from these cities in that it's posting names and pictures of people who have merely been accused of solicitation, not convicted. Mayor Richard Daley is brushing aside the possibility that the city could post the picture of someone who turns out to be innocent.  And the site does note that all the people pictured are innocent until proven guilty.  But the shame factor, I would think, is probably the same regardless.

"Web site puts 'johns' on the spot" [Chicago Tribune]

UPDATE:  The site is extremely popular, getting 47,000 hits in its first day.

Zach Patton | Executive Editor | zpatton@governing.com