Dallas, TX

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

Dallas is a city located in Dallas County, TX and with a population of about 1.3 million residents, it is the ninth-largest city in the United States. Numerous problems associated with commercial sex have been documented in the city, such as child sex trafficking and prostituted persons being targeted by several different serial killers.

The Dallas Police Department has been conducting reverse stings since 1971.  Police responses to prostitution are driven in part by persistent complaints by residents and businesses.  Like most cities that have focused on arresting commercial sex customers, the decision by police to focus on demand was a response to seeing no positive results from decades of arresting “providers,” and the difficulty and relative rarity of arresting pimps and traffickers.  Hundreds of reverse stings have been conducted over the past 40 years in Dallas, and they continue to occur in the city on a regular basis.  Police interviewed said reverse stings happen about once per month, but can vary a great deal- less often when other priorities emerge, and more frequently when “hot-spots” emerge or community complaints increase.  Most of the operations have been street-level reverse stings, but the city also conducts web-based reversals.  We do not know when the first operation occurred that used decoy ads posted on the internet by police, but web-based reversals appear to have been conducted by the Dallas PD for at least the past five years.

In September 2013, Dallas Police augmented their web-based prostitution strategy by posting “warning” advertisements to Backpage.com, notifying sex buyers that they were under surveillance. For example, one decoy listing (titled “new PERFECT brunette DOLL PETITE BODY? – 21”), contained the following message for those who clicked on the post:

“The Dallas Police, in an effort to fight the victimization and sexual exploitation of women and children through prostitution/human trafficking, has initiated several undercover operations on the Internet. Some ads will be a warning such as this one! Other ads will be real, in that the person you meet will be a real undercover police officer! You are not anonymous and your location and IP address has just been logged.”

Additional tactics used to punish and deter sex buyers after they are arrested include “shaming” – the identities of arrested sex buyers may be posted on the PD website or released to the media, a practice that began in Dallas in 2005. The city also can seize the autos and suspend the drivers’ licenses of arrested johns.  A john school program has been in place for about seven years.  There are also neighborhood organizations and collaborations between police and neighborhood groups that focus on demand.

John Schools in Dallas

Dallas has had a john school program since 2005. In our National Assessment research, we received conflicting accounts about whether there have been two john schools in the city, or only one.  We believe there have been two – the first a short-lived effort of the District Attorney’s Office, and the second a program that has run from later in 2005 through at least 2011.

I. The District Attorney’s Office John School:   According to interviews with two community prosecutors conducted for the National Assessment, the DA’s office launched a john school in Dallas in late 2005. Two john school classes were held in May and June, together having 30 participants, and then the program stopped operating.  The reason given for the suspension of the program was that “a change in leadership occurred” where the program’s original champions moved on, and the program “slipped through the cracks.” The structure of the program can be summarized as follows:

The john school was used as either a diversion program or a sentencing option:  Men could be routed to the class as a diversion option, resulting in dismissal of charges, or judges could decide to require attendance as a condition of a sentence.  The choice of these two options would be influenced by mitigating or aggravating circumstances, such as the arrestee’s criminal history, concurrent offenses, etc.

The educational content was delivered in one eight-hour day, in a classroom format.  The men paid a $200 fee that covered the expenses of the class and the HIV test.

The curriculum included the following topics:

  • Health risks
  • Health screening (HIV test)
  • Negative consequences of prostitution and sex trafficking on communities
  • Negative consequences for prostituted and trafficked persons

II. Council for Alcohol and Substance Abuse John School:  At about the same time that the DA’s office was developing their short-lived john school, another program was developed by the Dallas Police Department (DPD), the City Attorney’s Office, and an NGO – the Council for Alcohol and Substance Abuse (CASA).  That year, the DPD and the City Attorney’s Office approached CASA about putting together a john school.  CASA provides education and substance abuse and is known in the community for offering DWI, drug offender, and various court-ordered classes.  During this same time period of the CASA john school development, the DPD started posting photos and identifiers of arrested johns on the DPD website, as well as pursuing other strategies to deal with the johns and not just the prostituted women and trafficked girls.

The program developed by the Council is structured as a one day, all day class on Saturday.  The sessions usually run from 8 A.M. to 4:30 P.M.  Initially, the program was offered monthly and has had periods where it has been offered twice per month – once in English and once in Spanish – when police have produced larger numbers of arrestees.

Johns are charged a $200 fee for the class.  The fee is considered part of their punishment in addition to court costs, etc.  The Council uses the funds to run the program, and they make a slight profit that is used to support their other programs.

A program staff member interviewed for the National Assessment provided a “rough and conservative estimate” of 900 johns having gone through the program (15 participants per month = 180 per year, times the first 5 years of the program through 2010).

A key program objective of the john school is for participants to better understand the legal, social, and health costs of soliciting or hiring prostitutes.  The topics that are covered in the curriculum are:

  • Program overview
  • Overview of Texas penal code regarding prostitution and sex trafficking
  • Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI)
  • HIV testing
  • Presentation on health risks and consequences, focusing on STIs
  • Presentation on alcohol and drug use consequences
  • Impact on survivors
  • Pre- and post-class assessment

The drug and alcohol component was included in the curriculum since it was observed by police that many johns are under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances at the time of arrest.  Similar observations about intoxication are made by women who had served in prostitution in Dallas.  The SASSI is a written screening inventory that the johns fill out to provide a rough assessment of substance abuse problems.  It is scored by a licensed chemical dependency counselor while the johns are engaged in other parts of the curriculum.  John school participants who display substance abuse problems are pulled aside during the day so that they can be spoken to privately about the results of the screening inventory and offered follow-up counseling if they so desire.

The HIV testing is done in “a confidential setting.”  It is free and administered on a voluntary basis, and men who choose to be tested are pulled out of class.  In order to have the HIV test, the johns also must agree to participate in protocol based counseling provided by the Council.  Many johns reportedly choose to have the HIV test.

The presentation about the impact on survivors is delivered by either a video or a live talk by a formerly prostituted or trafficked woman.  The women discuss what it was like to be on street, how they became involved, their reasons for being “out on the street” (e.g., being forced or coerced by pimps, a result of drug addiction, considered the best option for income) and how they were able to exit commercial sex or sex trafficking.

The pre- and post-class assessments are meant to measure and assess changes in knowledge and opinions, and satisfaction with the program (e.g., was it relevant, were they provided with information they can use in the future).  Program personnel acknowledge that the assessment “is not highly scientific, but it is all they can do” and it serves their purposes.  The johns take the assessment at 8 am and then again at 4:30 pm.  The results are used internally for program monitoring and improvement.

The presentations are all provided by staff at the Council (aside from the survivor presentations), all of whom have been trained.  All Council staff deliver educational presentations in the course of their work.  People who conduct the HIV testing and administer the SASSI inventory are certified health educators.

Most referrals into the john school program occur through the court systems and probation in Dallas and in surrounding communities.  Council staff said that the program gets more referrals from surrounding communities than they receive from the Dallas PD.  The Council “has trouble getting judges in Dallas County to refer men to their program” because the judges are “concerned with indigence and how johns are going to pay the $200 for the program on top of the court and other costs.”  The Council argues that the fee is reasonable, it is what they require to support the program, and that most john schools charge higher fees (they are correct about this; the national average fee or fine for a john school is over $400, and can be as high as $1,500).  The Council also contends that the fees cannot be lowered since the program takes place on Saturdays, the staff must be paid, and the Council has to pay for the facility, air conditioning, and the cost of the tests.

The program initially took place only once a month and had larger numbers of participants, but the attendance declined due in part to a reduction in the number of reverse stings conducted by police.  The Council in 2009 began to do more publicizing and outreach to boost awareness of their john school as an option for dealing with arrested sex buyers.  The way they marketed the program was meeting one-on-one with stakeholders (i.e., judges, prosecutors).  The Council also mailed flyers to the stakeholders so that they would have information on hand.  At that same time, the Council was approached by a new Assistant City Attorney and DPD lieutenant who wanted to work towards making the john school mandatory.  Everyone agreed that the program (and the addition of making it mandatory) were good ideas, but there were two perceived barriers: (a) Most of the johns who are arrested end up settling on plea agreements, routing them away from the john school as a potential sentence; and (b) concern over johns’ ability to pay the program fee in addition to court costs and other expenses.

Program numbers declined from 2008-2010, and the Council is hoping the program becomes mandatory or a sentencing option used more often by the courts.  An event in 2010 led the Council staff we interviewed to believe that they may not continue to run their john school.  The organizers of a Dallas government program for commercial sex and trafficking survivors – described below – is considering starting their own john school as a way to generate revenue for their survivor program.

Beginning in about 2009, several Dallas police officers proposed doing triage at the point of arrest in sting operations, particularly at truck stops.  There are several interstate highways that go through Dallas, and two of them run directly to Mexico.  High levels of prostitution have been observed to take place at interstate highway truck stops.  The reason for the truck stop operations was the observation that prostituted women and girls predominately appeared to have acute service needs (such as drug addiction and a history of physical and sexual abuse) that were largely unmet. The objective of the proposed triage idea was to determine which arrested women would be best served by access to appropriate services, rather than reflexively sending them to jail where little or no services would be available. The standard practice of arresting prostituted women and trafficked girls was found to have no demonstrable benefits, and more promising alternatives were sought.

The following organizations collaborated to design and operate the PDI program:

  • County Health Department
  • Dallas County Sheriff
  • Dallas PD
  • Two substance abuse treatment providers
  • Mental Health America

The key feature of the PDI program was setting up mobile or temporary stations at truck stops.  The first implementation was at a truck stop on Interstate 20.  The plan was to arrest 20 to 40 women and then assess whether they were able to effectively route the arrested women to the services they need as a diversion option, or to the courts and jail systems.  More specifically, they arrest the women and then offer them deals: “If they go to the Department of Public Health van on site and get tested, and if they go for mental health counseling and they meet other conditions, then they will defer a sentence.  Essentially, a diversion system is set up on site at the truck stop.  They make the best assessments they can about arrestees, and then an offer is made to those who meet eligibility criteria.  The women still have to go to court; it can’t all happen on site, but they negotiate a diversion/deferment deal based on the screening and triage process on site at the point of arrest.

The collaboration has become firmly established, and from 2010 to 2012 they have operated the program at four truck stops regularly.  A researcher from the University of Dallas is working with PDI personnel to evaluate the program.  Through 2012 sufficient data had not yet accrued for firm conclusions to be drawn about outcomes, but program staff believe it is working very well.  Some of the women say that they’d rather go to jail than seeking treatment to stop using drugs (such as crack) and meeting other requirements, and they choose to go to jail.  Many of the women reportedly say they will go to substance abuse treatment, but they relapse before they complete a treatment cycle.  But “many” women who are arrested meet the PDI requirements and engage in the program.

In late 2010, the collaborating organizations were starting their own nonprofit organization (tentatively titled “New Life New Opportunities”).  Everyone who was working the triage in the program’s first two years was doing so on their own time, unpaid, and they are not collecting fees at the truck stop; they were “operating with whatever resources they already have.”  They noticed the john school that the Council was operating, and considered adding a john school of their own to raise money to support PDI and the rest of their programs for women and girls.  The truck stop stings would still target providers and the john school would be supplied by arrests from reverse stings.  (Police say they know where the hot spots are, and that’s where they do the stings.)  Council staff said that if the Dallas PD, Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, and other PDI partners start their own john school, the Council would no longer get any referrals, since it would be the Dallas County Sheriff and the Dallas PD’s own program, and the Council could not compete with that.

The Dallas interviews for the National Assessment were conducted in 2010, and at that point it was not clear whether or when the PDI partners would launch their own john school, or whether it would displace the Council’s program.  The respondents initially believed that it would all take place by end of 2010, but that the collaborating organizations might have underestimated how long it takes to set up 501c3.  They felt it was likely there would continue to be a john school in Dallas, but that it was likely (although not certain) that it will be transitioned to a new nonprofit.  A law enforcement officer would probably deliver the part of the curriculum on penal codes and the service providers could do the rest of the educational elements and the health testing.


Key Partners

  • Dallas Police Department
  • Dallas County Sheriff’s Department
  • Dallas County District Attorney’s Office
  • Dallas City Attorney’s Office
  • Dallas County Health & Human Services
  • Greater Dallas Council on Alcohol & Drug Abuse
  • DFW Hope Springs
  • Letot Girls’ Center

Key Sources

State Texas
Type City
Population 1358328
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