Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony was a strange one for crime and punishment. In those days, the Puritans considered it a criminal offense to cheat on one’s spouse. One of that crime’s punishments was made famous by the Nathanial Hawthorne novel, The Scarlet Letter. The convicted person would be forced to wear a large, scarlet-colored “A” on their clothing, which told anyone in sight of the convicted person that he or she had committed adultery.
Fast-forward almost 400 years later to life in the city of Anaheim. On September 23, the City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that would give the scarlet letter punishment a modern twist. If a person is arrested, charged, and convicted of soliciting a prostitute, his or her name will be posted on a list that the city will publish online. Since 2011, 187 arrests have been made for prostitution in Anaheim. Those arrests include all players in the crime: pimps, prostitutes, and clients (or “johns”).
Public Shaming: Punishing People for Being Lonely
The public shaming of johns is nothing new. Last year, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office began posting a list of people convicted of prostitution on its website, and it distributes the list to local news media. Anaheim is the only city in the county that handles its own misdemeanor prosecutions, and the new ordinance will bring the city in line with the rest of the county on this issue.
What is different is that Anaheim officials have made it clear that the only people targeted by this policy are the customers. The sex workers will remain anonymous, but the guy or gal who made the mistake of hiring a prostitute will get to see their name in the newspaper and posted online. Not only will they see it, but so will their family, friends, employers, ministers, and anyone else who cares to take a look.
One of the central ideas behind our criminal justice system that we celebrate is that it gives good people who make a mistake a second chance. They pay their debt to society, then move forward with their lives and put the past behind them. Publishing the names of people who are convicted of prostitution – something that the Orange County Register does not consider a good idea 1 – places that past under a spotlight, where it remains long after the price for the crime has been paid.
Scarlet letters are relics of the past. The City of Anaheim and Orange County ought to consider leaving this punishment to the confines of history.
Share Your Feedback with Us
We at Wallin & Klarich would like to hear from you about this topic. Should Anaheim and Orange County continue to publish the names of people convicted for soliciting prostitutes, or is this a punishment that goes beyond the crime? What are some of the reasons you see that would make this either a good or bad idea? Please feel free to leave your comments below.