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Chicago’s use of the Internet to humiliate customers of prostitutes, or “johns,” has led to concerns that the practice may violate constitutional rights. At issue is Chicago’s recent decision to run a Web site that posts the names and photos of people who have been arrested for soliciting a prostitute—but not convicted. Attorneys and law enforcement officials argue that the practice violates a person’s constitutional right to a fair trial, and could lead to lawsuits down the road. The arguments whirling around in the Windy City have also taken place in cities in Kansas, North Carolina and Ohio. “Clearly it’s punishment before judgment. How could it not be? It causes humiliation for the arrestee, his friends and family . . . and they’re all being punished without any hint of due process,” said attorney Jack King, director of public affairs of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “The city of Chicago is opening itself up to a lot of potential liability.” But Mayor Richard Daley has brushed aside potential constitutional concerns about the Web site, asserting that the public’s right to know outweighs an arrestee’s disapproval. “It’s a matter of public record,” Daley spokesman David Bayless said of the mugshots that are posted on the Internet. “We’re also responding to a demand from the media and the public to see who the individuals are.” The Daley administration also has asserted that prostitution is “a terrible life” that subjects women to violence and abuse and jeopardizes the safety of neighborhoods. Police Lieutenant Rick Edwards, of the Akron, Ohio, Police Department, which has a similar shame Web site, disagrees. “You’re innocent until proven guilty. You could really bury somebody,” noted Edwards, whose police department runs an “Operation John Be Gone” Web site that features only those convicted of prostitution charges. Warnings included According to Daley’s office, Chicago police last year arrested 3,204 prostitutes and 950 customers, and impounded 862 cars. Hoping to cut the demand for prostitution, the city is also distributing posters, warning potential customers about the Web site and adding that “you will be paying thousands of dollars in fines for your public humiliation.” A similar public shame program was introduced in Kansas City, Mo., in the 1990s, where the police posted the images of people arrested on prostitution charges on a community-access TV channel. Like Chicago, Kansas City also didn’t wait for a conviction to run the photographs. Kansas City Police Sergeant Brad Dumit defended the tactic, saying “it’s a matter of public record and anyone can view it.” The program ended due to a manpower shortage, he said. But in its four years of existence, he said, the city never ran into any legal troubles. “We never had a problem with it whatsoever,” Dumit said. “And I’m imagining Chicago’s pretty smart. They won’t be violating people’s rights.” Charlotte, N.C., also has an off-again-on-again program called Shame TV, which runs the names and faces of convicted “johns.” 100,000 ‘hits’ Publicizing the names of just suspects was also debated a few years ago, but the city decided to name only those convicted “for obvious reasons,” noted Julie Hill, a spokesperson for the city of Charlotte. Edwards noted that Akron’s prostitution Web site got more than 100,000 Internet hits in the last year. Attorneys often try to keep their client’s name off the Web site, seeking more jail time or a higher fine. “They try to use the Web site as a bargaining tool and we don’t bargain with it,” Edwards said. “If you’re guilty, you’re going on the Web site.” Chicago public defender Darlene Williams, who handles prostitution misdemeanors for the Cook County Public Defender’s Office, said she is opposed to Chicago’s humiliation tactic. “You’re putting people’s pictures out there on a Web site and there isn’t a presumption of innocence,” Williams said. “They might not be convicted of anything and now there’s this picture on this Web site and there’s this humiliation brought to their family.”

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