Re-educating the Kerb Crawler

When doing research, you sometimes end up in places that a few months before you did not think you would be. Take me for example. One morning in January 2012, I was sat in a small room in police station somewhere in England observing a kerb crawling awareness scheme which is offered to those arrested for kerb crawling for the first time instead of a court appearance. Those attending the session are taught about the negative consequences of their actions on the sex workers, the wider community and themselves. I was here not because I was arrested but because I had recently begun a research project examining the ways in which kerb crawling is policed in a place we shall refer to as ‘Redtown’ in England. Let me give you some background on my project and where I am at.

To date, at least 15 kerb crawling awareness schemes have emerged in parts of England since 1998 with many more emerging in North America since 1981 when the first ‘John School’ opened in Grand Rapids, Michigan (Shively et al., 2008). While they are often accompanied by rhetoric of how they lower re-offending rates of attendees, such sessions have their critics. For instance, academic Teela Sanders (2009) together with Rosie Campbell and Merl Storr (2001) have argued that these sessions provide little or no advice on how to be a ‘good client’, and that the wider operations to arrest kerb crawlers (in order to ‘feed’ the sessions) forces sex workers to pick up clients quicker and in more secluded spaces putting the sex workers in danger.

Although kerb crawling was criminalised in England and Wales under the 1985 Sexual Offences Act, it is only in 2007 that the police in Redtown began a sustained campaign of arresting kerb crawlers through covert operations in its red light district and started hosting the awareness schemes. Between late 2007 and November 2011, 230 men have been arrested for kerb crawling in Redtown with 202 of these attending one of 20 awareness sessions.

The awareness sessions in Redtown last between one and two hours and follow a standardised format. A Police Inspector begins by informing attendees of the illegality of kerb crawling and that if they are caught again, they will attend court and could lose their driving licence and be ‘named and shamed’ in the local newspaper. Redtown’s Council’s Head of Community Safety then tells them about the distress kerb crawling has caused residents of a working class neighbourhood adjacent to the red light district. The Chief Executive of an outreach project (providing services for sex workers), then highlights the types of problems many of the sex workers are facing and how buying sex ‘fuels’ such problems. Finally, a Social Worker from the local Council shows a short video telling the story of a young woman forced into prostitution by her father. Strong messages indeed.

My task now is to analyse the data collected – the interviews with those running the sessions and related services, my observations, and the numerous policy and media documents surrounding the scheme. In doing so, I am asking myself difficult questions and answers are slowly being formulated. Questions like how is Redtown’s awareness scheme shaped by the local and national politics and community activism? How are the kerb crawlers, sex workers and the community represented in the sessions? Is it appropriate for kerb crawlers to attend such sessions and potentially be ‘named and shamed’ in the local newspaper? At the risk of sounding like a game show host going to the adverts before the answers are revealed, I will report back soon with answers to the these questions. Analysing your data takes time!

More information on this research project can be found here.

By Dr. Ian Cook (Northumbria University)


Campbell, R. and Storr, M. (2001) Challenging the kerb crawler rehabilitation programme. Feminist Review, 67 (1), 94-108.

Sanders, T. (2009) Kerb crawler rehabilitation programmes: Curing the ‘deviant’ male and reinforcing the ‘respectable’ moral order. Critical Social Policy, 29 (1), 77-99.

Shively, M., Jalbert, S. K., Kling, R. Rhodes, W., Finn, W., Finn, P., Flygare, C, Tienery, L, Hunt, D., Squires, D., Dyous, C. and Wheeler, K. (2008) First Report on the Evaluation of the First Offender Prostitution Program. Cambridge, MA: Abt Associates Inc.