Clients of prostitutes or sex workers are sometimes known as johns or tricks in North America and punters in the British Isles. In common parlance among prostitutes as well as with others, the act of negotiating and then engaging with a client is referred to as turning a trick. Female clients are sometimes called janes, although the vast majority of prostitution clients are male in almost all countries.
There are many terms for clients, including whoremonger, sex-buyer, UK slang such as punter, terms for those in a vehicle such as kerb crawler, as well as Caribbean slang terms for female clients of gigolos such as milk bottle, longtail, yellowtail or stella.
The term trick is sometimes associated with North America and punter is associated with the term for sex workers' clients in the British Isles. These slang terms are used among both prostitutes and law enforcement for persons who solicit prostitutes. The term john may have originated from the frequent customer practice of giving one's name as "John", a common name in English-speaking countries, in an effort to maintain anonymity. In some places, men who drive around red-light districts for the purpose of soliciting prostitutes are also known as kerb crawlers.
While studies reveal that clients seek out sex with prostitutes to satisfy otherwise unfulfilled sexual desires or simply as a means to establish social bonds with women, evidence suggests that some see purchase of sexual intercourse as purely a consumer product and a means to "reestablish the traditional male dominance over women," turning prostitution into a form of anti-feminism.
An analysis from 2005 divides the motivation of clients into five broad categories:
- The fantasy of “dirty whore”, fuelled by feelings of curiosity and disgust;
- Another type of sex, where the desire to experience sexuality that is not possible with a steady partner underwrites the act;
- No other women, believes that due to shyness, fear, age or physical or mental disabilities there are "no other women for me"; (see inceldom)
- Consumer of sex, wherein sex is a product;
- Another type of woman, where sex is sought out as an expression of strong anti-feminist notions, as a reaction to a perceived a loss of masculine supremacy.
According to Sabine Grenz of the University of Gothenburg, clients come from all socio-economic classes, and include "stockbrokers, truck drivers, teachers, priests or law-enforcement officials." As such, "There are no social characteristics that basically distinguish johns from other men."
According to Megan Lundstrom of Free Our Girls, 80% to 90% of clients are married men. According to a study by Health and Social Life, 55% of clients are married or cohabiting. Only 39% of clients are aware that one could contract an STI from being fellated.
According to Melissa Farley, executive director of Prostitution Research & Education, 60% of clients wear condoms. A survey in Georgia found that 83% of clients would be deterred from purchasing sex if they were outed (name and shame) on billboards which included photos and names. According to a study by Shared Hope International and Arizona State University, 21.6% of clients had professions commonly perceived as one of a position of authority or position of trust such as law enforcement, attorney or military personnel.
In Canada, the average age of a client is between 38 and 42 years old who has purchased sex roughly 100 times over their lifetime. Roughly 70% have completed university or college and earn over 50,000 Canadian dollars a year.
The affordability of prostitution greatly varies from region to region. The prices are lowest in areas where it is legal due to competition within the sex trade that seeks to court both sex tourists and local clients. Time magazine has described Germany as the "Cut-Rate Prostitution Capital of the World", in reference to the lower charges.
When the clientele of prostitutes in a specific locality begins to attract modest amounts of newcomers of a middle-class or upper-class status, the subsequent cost hike is known to reduce the use of such services by less affluent local prospective clients. In jurisdictions where penalties for buying sex are high, fines imposed on clients can also put low-income clients of prostitution in financial ruin.
Maltreatment and victimization
When interaction between the clients of prostitutes and sex workers occurs in countries where brothels are illegal, the prostitution trade usually transpires in areas with high amounts of crime, a predicament that puts clients at risk of becoming victims of crime, or becoming entangled in the crime in some other manner. According to Atchison, a sociology instructor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, and founder of John's Voice, clients are verbally abused, robbed and physically assaulted at a rate of 18%, 14% and 4% respectively. In Ireland, there was a significant increase in physical attacks on sex workers by clients after the passing of laws banning the purchase of sex. Clients also sometimes fall victim to extortion, scamming and blackmail.
The manner in which clients were viewed has varied throughout human history depending on location and era. In some periods of history, clients were viewed as enablers of an evil practice, viewing them as furthering a trade which enabled infidelity and easing the breaking of covenants between committed partners. At other times, particularly during times of war, or other events which segregated the sexes, there would be increased sympathy for clients, particularly if service persons threatened to sever their genitals or castrate themselves to attain anaphrodisia if prospective clients were chastised. In contemporary times, clients are sometimes viewed as enablers of human trafficking and child trafficking due to boosting their demand. Females clients have been purported to be viewed less negatively than male clients, possibly due to a perception of novelty that produces curiosity rather than moral judgement.
The manner in which clients are treated by the law varies by jurisdiction and country. The laws which are most stringent against clients have gradually been referred to as the Swedish model, which is also called the Nordic model or Sex Buyer Law. This is in reference to the law passed in Sweden in 1999 wherein the buyer, rather than the seller of sex is penalized. Although Sweden was the first country to criminalize clients rather than prostitutes, many countries have since adopted this Swedish system, with Norway following suit in 2008 and Iceland adopting this model in 2009. Some analysts have argued that this law criminalizing clients rather than prostitutes is peculiar in Western as well as other legal systems, claiming that throughout Western history, there is no precedence of a purchaser of a controversial service committing a greater infraction than the purveyor.
A law passed in Israel at New Year's Eve 2018 which would ban the buying of sex would come into effect in a year and a half. The law, which was proposed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in June 2018, would include fines. In 2018, France increased the penalty against buying of sex to a fine of up to 1,500 euros ($1,700). In Italy, a fine of up to 10,000 Euros was proposed in 2016 for frequenters of prostitutes.
In Norway, clients can not only be fined, but can also serve up to 6 months in prison.
In Germany, clients of sex workers are required by law to wear condoms.
In St Petersburg, Russia, a law was drafted which would pardon clients from heavy fines or jail sentences if they married the sex worker they interacted with.
In Greater Sudbury, Ontario, another form of deterrent used against clients is the seizure, towing and impounding of vehicles used for soliciting sex workers.
Campaigners against the criminalisation of clients include Irish law graduate Laura Lee. In some nations where prostitution is legal such as the Netherlands, rather than being viewed as accessories to human trafficking, clients are called on to join efforts to eradicate its practise by being asked to look out for signs of abuse. In France, some opposition to the fining of clients has come from sex workers unions such as Strass, who argue that initiatives to fine clients makes sex work more dangerous as it forces the trade to go underground and due to increased secrecy and less transparency.
In 2018, Pope Francis described clients of prostitution as criminals. In the U.S. state of Arizona, some police forces have adopted fake online advertisements which are police generated in order to lure prostitution clients.
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