In October 2012, six men were arrested in a police sting in downtown Boston for allegedly seeking underage prostitutes.
Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley touted the arrests and released the men’s names and photos to put all potential sex buyers on notice. Those seeking girls and women of any age could expect to be treated as criminals, part of a statewide get-tough-on-Johns campaign.
Defendants, including a Sharon father of five and a Bellingham engineer, were charged under a state law that became effective in early 2012, increasing fines and jail time for sex buyers. Each man faced a minimum $1,000 fine for attempting to buy sex and up to five years in state prison for seeking to purchase sex from a minor.
But a year later, the get-tough talk has proven to be just talk. Four of the six men have seen their charges reduced, dismissed or continued without a finding. None was convicted of seeking to buy sex from minors. No one was fined $1,000. Instead, the steepest fines required one defendant to pay $65 a month in court fees for a year and watch a “John” video detailing the pernicious effects of the sex trade on prostitutes, their customers — and families — and the communities at large.
The lack of guilty findings and hefty fines for men arrested for buying sex is played over and over in courts across the Bay State, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting found in a review of court records and interviews with law enforcement and prosecutors. Not one of the state’s 11 District Attorney’s offices could cite a sex buyer receiving even the minimum $1,000 fine, much less jail time since the law became effective, according to a NECIR survey.
Instead, the state’s purported effort to go after sex buyers — championed by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley as key to fighting human trafficking — is struggling to gain traction, faced with inadequate resources, a lack of knowledge about the law and a long-held resistance to holding so-called “Johns” accountable, according to interviews with victim advocates, law enforcement and researchers.