Tuesday, December 28, 2004

On shabbos this prominent Washington Rabbi went to John school


At 10:47 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

Fallen Men; At 'John School,' Students Review a Lesson Picked Up on the Street
by Helen Rumbelow
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 28, 2002

A passerby would find it hard to imagine what unites these three dozen men, sitting nervously in a classroom on a recent overcast Saturday.

A tweed-jacketed yuppie pulls a copy of the Harvard Business Review out of his briefcase and kills time by highlighting sections from an article. He sits at the base of a group of desks arranged in a U. A large window overlooks the parking lot.

Next to him a group of young men in baggy jeans and oversize sneakers are bantering about their cell phone ring tones, less willing to settle down under the fluorescent lights. A rabbi stares out at the sky with an unreadable expression, while a white-haired father of two fiddles with his lunchbox. His wife helped him pack it, thinking he was going on a fishing trip.

Black or white, rich or poor, recent immigrant or part of Washington's elite -- the main thing they have in common is that they are all men who have been busted for soliciting a prostitute. Or rather soliciting an undercover cop -- an unfortunate mistake that led to their arrival here in the police training academy in Southeast Washington, next to the sewage treatment plant.

"Welcome to John School," says a jovial man striding in front of a blackboard still covered with the chalky remains of a lesson in policing.

This is Detective Mark Gilkey, supervisor of D.C.'s anti-prostitution unit and their emcee for the day, the seventh John School since the city adopted the program a year ago. Reporters have been invited to observe, but are not allowed to name the men.

The curriculum -- borrowed from San Francisco -- works like traffic school. Each man is on his first arrest for soliciting, and has agreed to pay $300 to attend a day of lectures about the consequences of his actions. In return he gets his case dismissed, he avoids court and his record stays clean.

Few turn this offer down, and as the day gets underway it quickly emerges that most have a special reason for trying to end this humiliating episode with a minimum of fuss. After a brief spiel from a lawyer from the U.S. attorney's office, Gilkey is back with this question.

"How many here have wives?" Ten hands go up.

"How many girlfriends?" Around another 20 hands are raised as the heads collectively bow lower.

There is an uncomfortable silence, save for the whisperings of the interpreter for a Mexican immigrant.

"I know what you're thinking: That we should be out enforcing homicides. What you did is not that bad. Mr. Happy was talking to me and I lost my mind," says Gilkey, smiling beneath his mustache, and the men chuckle in recognition.

"But this is a morality issue: Prostitution is not a victimless crime."

He introduces Officer Kim Crosby, a woman in elegant cream pants and a conservative blouse at the back of the room, and says she may look familiar. Some men snicker ruefully -- she is the undercover officer they approached. Crosby smiles and stares them down. Gilkey goes on to speak from his 20 years of experience working in the city's prostitution unit, watching thousands of hookers, women and men, hawk their wares.

Most of today's johns come from a sting around Congress Heights in Southeast Washington, where women addicted to crack cocaine sell themselves for a tenth the price of healthier women downtown ($10 for intercourse as opposed to more than $100). This accounts for a younger, less affluent John School than usual.

He knows that an appeal to higher morals is not the most persuasive tactic. The men listen intently as they are told that within a few years he believes the city will put their photos on the Internet, as is done in St. Paul; that they are much more likely to be the victims of crime; and that many streetwalkers test positive for HIV.

But the class breaks into uproar when he tells them that he is confident many have had unwittingly had sex with female impersonators.

"If you have been on 20 dates with prostitutes you have been with one or two guys, I guarantee it."

At this moment, an attractive man in his thirties in a trendy retro shirt puts his head in his hands and looks ready to cry.

He has traveled from his home in New York for today's session after being caught by police while here on a business trip several months ago. Although he has a professional job and a "successful life," he says he is so shy that it had been years since he had sex. This was his first attempt to use a prostitute, he says.

"But I was looking around the class and I was thinking, 'My God, what has brought me to this? Am I no better than these men?' " he says afterward.

Gilkey tells them this day offers them "a second chance in the game of life," that of the 250 graduates of the course, none has been arrested again for soliciting. In one of the frequent class breaks, when the men sidle off to a side room to take advantage of free testing for sexually transmitted diseases, Gilkey exudes the same down-to-earth optimism.

He has loved his job ever since he did his first Christmas prostitution sting as a rookie. Now he has a young son, and a wife who he says supports his work entirely. Just getting one juvenile off the street is reward enough, he says.

Johns, are, for the most part, not the sleazy figures of stereotype, he says. They are everyday, normal people.

"Do I think all these guys are sick? No, I think guys are guys. Some have sexual issues, but some are just out on the town. They get a little inquisitive."

Gilkey's unit, using four undercover police officers, averages 80 arrests a month. Just under half of those arrested are johns, the rest prostitutes.

"But I haven't a clue how much is going undetected," he says. "If I felt we were getting 10 percent of what is going on I would feel we were doing a tremendous job."

Most of the men remain silent in class. But a few ask questions, and the questions they ask reveal men who may continue to solicit and need advice on how to avoid getting caught, getting a disease, or an attack of conscience. This is a service John School does not provide.

Back in the dreary classroom a Health Department doctor, Herman Jones, speaks about the dangers of HIV, herpes and syphilis. This talk is timed directly before lunch. If the men are not startled enough by the descriptions of sores, he claps his hands violently in front of the faces of anyone daydreaming.

Jones has worked himself into a righteous anger -- first by asking the men for another show of hands on wives and girlfriends, then asking how many used a condom with the prostitute. The answer? Around half.

"How are you going to explain to your wife of 20 years that you haven't had sex with no one else when you've just given her HIV?" he asks.

But the men want the answers to different questions, such as if there is a way to reduce the risks of disease from having sex with a prostitute.

The class joker, a loud man wearing a turned-around baseball cap and sitting in the back row, says he feels obliged to pay a prostitute several times a year because his girlfriend will not perform oral sex. He asks if this is safer than intercourse.

"You don't get away clear with anything you do," Jones replies.

Personal History

The men drift off to sit alone in the canteen to eat lunch. An anonymous survey they're required to complete shows the group to be a diverse one -- a third are college graduates, two have doctorates, another third are unemployed. Visiting prostitutes is an occasional indulgence for them -- only a fifth said they paid for sex more than once a year. Nearly all first visited a prostitute before they turned 25, two-fifths before they turned 18.

Some linger to tell their stories, and once they start talking, they seem relieved to be able to reveal their secrets.

The jazz musician in the dark suit goes to church every Sunday even if he isn't playing for the choir. In his late forties, he has been married for a decade, but with his wife away on business he returned to his bachelor habits of paying for sex.

"Call it lust, libido, I just saw this girl standing there and felt like wild animals do, and I let it happen," he says.

Before he knew it, he was surrounded by police, standing on a street corner in handcuffs praying that no one he knew drove by. Looking back, he said he should have known that the woman offering her services for $40 was a cop because she was too healthy-looking. He has decided not to tell his wife, but has ambiguous feelings about whether what he did was wrong.

"I know that I broke the law, and I'm ashamed that I broke my marriage vows. But this is a biological issue rather than a moral issue -- men are weak that way," he says.

"You don't have to look far. Look at President Clinton. We can't control ourselves like we should. Even happily married men are looking for sex, and if you are, a prostitute is better than a decent woman," he says.

"A decent woman is not going to have sex anytime soon, and she may end up causing trouble for your wife. A prostitute is simpler and cheaper."

A subdued man with hangdog eyes, who has a wife of 17 years and two teenage daughters, is the only one in the class who told his partner. He says he is happy with her, but was looking for a "fantasy." The thrill of paying for sex would give him a sense of escape and power. He called his wife from the police lockup. She picked him up on his release 12 hours later.

"She was upset. I was humiliated," he says. It was that wordless drive home that persuaded him to renounce prostitutes, he says, rather than the day's lectures.

The beginning of the afternoon session finds the man with the Harvard Business Review advising fellow johns on how to claim the $300 fee as a charitable deduction on their tax returns. The program requires that the fee be paid as a donation to the Eleuthera Institute, a charity to help prostitutes get off the streets.

A motherly woman scolds them back into order: Rita Flynn, a paralegal for the U.S. attorney's office who administers the program and has worked with johns for years. When asked if her job has changed her opinion of men, she laughs.

"Yes, I don't date them anymore."

Women delude themselves if they think that their husbands or boyfriends would never visit a prostitute, she says. She no longer wants to expose herself to that kind of risk, emotional or venereal.

"I know how men are. There's a rabbi here -- that doesn't make any difference. They're all men. Women have no idea -- they think that their man won't do anything like this. But even if you do everything sexually for a man he's still going to find a girl who will do anything for him."

Another Perspective

The afternoon session begins when a group of four former prostitutes arrive to give their side of the story. Two came from a background of abuse and poverty, and they speak haltingly and quietly from behind dark glasses. But the others are assertive and articulate, having both worked as prostitutes during college, one even juggling a double life after she began working for the government. All became addicted to heroin or cocaine as a way to cope, and the drugs then became their barrier to escape.

The first, a middle-aged woman in a pastel summer dress, speaks of her past in a slow monotone, recalling incidents as if the men in the room were responsible.

"You gang-raped me, shoved me in a car," she says.

"You talked to me about your children, your job, your wife, and I was bored but had to listen. You wanted it to be over as much as I did, but you did it too rough, you didn't understand I was a human being, a person, and when you were finished with me you passed me to a friend . . . I was sick, but you were sick, too."

She left prostitution after 15 years of walking 14th Street, and eventually got married. But she could not stop looking at all men as tricks; when her husband tried to put his arm around her, she felt sick. Contact with his skin still gives her flashbacks.

The second woman ends her speech by saying: "I know you know from their bodies that you are having sex with girls, not women, I don't care what you say. This isn't one of those movies where call girls jet around the world. This is where little girls are dressed up and watched constantly, and by the time they're 17 a lot of them are already dead."

The men become increasingly restive, and when the floor is opened to questions the class joker immediately disputes the depiction of prostitutes as victims.

"Why did you get into it if it was not for drugs?" he asks.

All four heatedly reply that they entered the job when they were too young to know better and then got trapped in a cycle of drug-taking. The men all rush to respond and the class erupts. The ex-prostitute who works in government and the class joker's voices rise above the others.

"You could have done it without drugs and then [prostitution] could have been something that lasted," he says.

"We're going to turn it on you. Did anyone force you to do it? Don't you feel that you're twisted, when you have a woman at home?" she shoots back.

Suddenly Officer Crosby rises from her seat at the back of the class.

"I don't think you're getting it," she tells the men, who swivel round to listen.

"You're under the impression that it's a choice, that these women are not sisters, mothers, daughters. I think you're looking for excuses."

She sits down, and most of the men applaud, the crisis over, although the aggrieved john still shakes his head.

A Loss of Faith

As the men hear from a sexual-addiction counselor, Crosby retires to a side room -- she is indignant at what just happened. One part of her identifies strongly with prostitutes, having played one up to four nights a week for four years.

Her first few nights undercover she was nervous.

"If you were raised properly, a good Christian, there are certain things you don't want to say or wear," she says. "But we're around prostitutes every night. We ask them, 'How do you say that?' After a while, you surprise yourself, you get good at it."

And once you start looking like a prostitute, it's hard not to feel like a prostitute, even among other police officers.

"At the beginning I would get so hurt when they wanted me to go out, it can feel degrading. And we don't let other officers see us because they get excited," she says.

"I have to remember that I'm an actress, because otherwise it's dehumanizing. The johns treat you like a prostitute, all they can see is a body," she says, rubbing her arms in a sudden shiver.

Once, when she was undercover, an old classmate from high school happened to pull up. They recognized each other, and then Crosby was appalled to realize he wanted to continue the deal. He didn't care about her when she was on the street, she says. But he had respect for her once he was in the back of a police car.

As with Flynn, the job has affected her view of men.

"Now, because I've been doing it for a while, I think that most men have it in them to do this kind of stuff. They're creeping around at night, fueling a fantasy. I've seen reverends, people like that. It makes you lose faith," she says.

When Crosby meets new people, she avoids telling them about her job. She even found herself getting emotional when a boyfriend asked her to wear high heels as a special treat.

"I couldn't do it, because it was too much like my job. It has changed the way I feel about men."

Unlike Gilkey, her boss, she is pessimistic about the future. The habitual johns know the tricks to avoiding arrest, such as asking women to get in the car before they begin negotiating.

"They say, 'Hop in the back,' because they know a police officer can't get in a car, it's not safe.

"What I'm doing is not effective, as far as changing people's lives. We have more johns than we ever had, more girls than we ever had.

"It is hopeless," she says.


At around 4 p.m. the men are released, scurrying back to their cars to avoid the rain that has started to fall, in a hurry to return home to their women with elaborate lies about where they have been.

"I don't want to bump into any one of you again!" says one, as a farewell to both police and fellow johns.

A survey performed before and after the program shows only one or two admitting they will use prostitutes in the future, a view little changed by the day. Researchers identify the doctor's talk as a particular weak spot, as the men remain woefully ignorant about health risks. The one group that made a dramatic impact was the ex-prostitutes. In the morning, the men felt fairly indifferent to the fate of prostitutes. Now, almost all said that the women are manipulated, that their personal relationships are ruined, and that the johns are part of the problem.

Looking sad, Crosby watches them go. She sometimes feels pity for these men.

"There was a man who once drove up and said, 'If I pay you, will you just kiss me?' All he wanted was affection and he had to pay for it. It made me feel so bad, that it had come to that."

At 5:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

WHy dont you become the journalist yourself in order to find out who it was?
There aren't many prominant Washington rabbis, so get a list and call them all at home and in the office.
i would probably start with Barry Freundel as a likely suspect.
And ask around to the office staff.

At 5:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

WHy dont you become the journalist yourself in order to find out who it was?
There aren't many prominant Washington rabbis, so get a list and call them all at home and in the office.
i would probably start with Barry Freundel as a likely suspect.
And ask around to the office staff.


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