AG Bondi, Human Trafficking Council Discuss 'John Schools,' Kid-Friendly App

Sep 15, 2015

Attorney General Pam Bondi speaking during the Tuesday meeting of the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking.
Credit Florida Channel

Looking into a school for men arrested for buying sex, getting a first-look at kid-friendly anti-human trafficking app, and considering more legislation cracking down on the practice are just some the areas discussed during a statewide panel Tuesday.

John Schools 

Springfield Police Chief Philip Thorne, who sits on the 15-member Statewide Council on Human Trafficking, says he’s been researching “John schools.” It’s a school meant to educate men arrested for buying sex.

“I found Department of Justice study relating to this, and that was back in 2008,” said Thorne. “Everything that I found on this is the best aspect of this is in male socialization training for young people…there’s more research to be done, and I’ll continue doing that.”

There are mixed reviews on the concept of John schools and how well they work. Among those doubtful of the program is Attorney General Pam Bondi, who leads the panel.

“So, right now, we’re unsure about the John schools,” said Bondi. “Frankly, as a career prosecutor, I have mixed feelings about it too…I think probably notifying their spouses probably does more good.”

Terry Coonan, the Executive Director of Florida State University’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, says the first John school sprang up in San Francisco, California.

“Actually, administrated by female survivors of prostitution and sex trafficking,” said Coonan. “They do show some good things. Statistically, the jury’s still out. They seem to show about an 80-85 percent non-recidivism rate for the first six months. There’s not a lot of research after six months, in terms of ‘are there reoffenders?’”

Still, the panel is sending some members to other states to look into John schools.

Sex and Labor Trafficking

There have also been repeated calls to add labor trafficking as part of Florida’s ongoing anti-human trafficking effort. And, Coonan says while Florida is a model for other states in terms of its efforts, it’s behind the curve in terms of labor trafficking.

“Curiously, and most disturbingly, we’ve seen almost no labor trafficking prosecutions in Florida in the last five years,” he said. “Some of the federal funding has disappeared for our coalitions, and law enforcement correctly tells us labor trafficking is very time intensive. It requires a lot of background work, a lot of undercover work. It also requires getting into places in our state where financial records are kept and this is an area where law enforcement is not always trained to conduct that operation.”

Coonan says Florida is continuing to make strides in anti-sex trafficking efforts, which he adds remains rampant throughout the state.

“The good news is that it’s being increasingly vigorously prosecuted in both federal and state courts,” added Coonan. “Ten years ago, only federal courts. Very, very encouraging trend to see that our state prosecutors’ response has been very strong here in Florida.”

The ACT app

The panel also got a first look at a smartphone app that’s aimed at educating mainly students on recognizing the signs of a potential human trafficker, in a sort of game.

Haley Corbett is in charge of the engineering and computer simulations for the Awareness Combats Trafficking, or A.C.T., app—developed by a group called the Lifeboat Project.

Corbett outlined one of the scenarios in the app that follows a female character.

“The second scene is social media encompassed,” she said. “So, on her social media, she’s now posting provocative photos. She’s now listed as ‘in a relationship’ with this guy. He’s telling other men, ‘if they want to get in contact with her, they should get in contact with him.’ So, we really want them to understand that social media and the internet play a huge role, and they need to be more cautious than ever before about who they speak to on social media. And, that episode tends to take the longest to get through, for even me, and I wrote it, because I’m like ‘this could be red flag or is this a red flag or are all these things red flags?’ because they probably could be.”

Lifeboat Founder and Executive Director Jill Cohen says she hopes the app will be up and running in Florida schools by 2017.

“And, what I love about this General Bondi is that you can be five or 85, and play this,” she said.

And, Bondi says she’s on board.

“If you could consider perhaps presenting this app at the summit,” said Bondi. “It’s amazing. It’s like a comic book. It’s great.”

The ACT app should be available on IOS app store and the google play store by January. Meanwhile, the council is gearing up for the Human Trafficking Summit, expected to take place October 29th to the 30th in Tampa.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.