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The Shame Game

The internet has given us a new public square. Now law enforcement is trying to harness its power.

The scientist doesn’t remember much about her—tall, black hair, dark miniskirt. They picked a place that wasn’t much to remember either, a chain hotel outside Long Island’s Garden City. Later, the authorities claimed the suggestive ad in the escorts section of made it exceptionally clear why he had called the number. But the scientist insists all he ever wanted was a massage, which he said was the only thing he asked for when he arrived at her hotel room. “My back really hurts,” he recalled telling her. They settled on the price: $100. “Works for me if it works for you,” he said.

Moments later, the cops burst in to arrest him, and he spent the rest of the night in jail. His lawyer didn’t expect the case would amount to much. The scientist had suspected the same: On top of being a researcher, he had a law degree, too. But all those credentials would just add to the coming ignominy.

The name of the crackdown suggested a cheeky tabloid headline: Operation Flush the Johns. The other news hook was its sheer scale: 104 men arrested for trying to buy sex through the sting. At a press conference in June 2013, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice and Police Commissioner Thomas Dale unveiled the arrests with great fanfare, arraying the mug shots of all the accused men on a big poster board propped up next to the podium.

How could any self-respecting tabloid resist? “Heeeere’s the ‘Johnnies’!” screamed the New York Post: “104 Horndogs Exposed in Prostitution Sting’s Wall of Shame.” Their names and faces made the U.K.’s Daily Mail. ABC News’s New York affiliate and The Huffington Post turned the 104 photos of the men into online slide shows, leaving out the disclaimer that officials had put in small letters at the bottom of the original image: “All are presumed innocent until proven guilty.” As the articles spread online, they begat more stories and links. All of it now swamps the search results for the names of many of the men arrested, regardless of whether they were ultimately convicted.

Rice, who was elected in 2014 to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat, says she launched the campaign to save women from the abuses of sex trafficking and achieve “gender fairness” by arresting their male clientele. Officials appear to have designed Flush the Johns to maximize the potential for public attention—and to exploit men’s fear of being found out, not just by the police but also by their own families. “You’re going to be caught, and your mug shot could end up right like these men,” Rice warned during the press conference.

A slew of other cities have embraced john-shaming as a way to combat prostitution: Colorado Springs; Albany, New York; Flint, Michigan; Prince George’s County, Maryland, outside D.C.; and a number of places in California—Oakland, Richmond, Fresno, and Orange County. Some have published the names and photos of accused johns upon arrest on designated web sites and social media, or in press conferences; others have waited until they’ve actually been convicted. But the upshot seems to be the same: Shame isn’t just the side effect of catching and prosecuting criminals in an open society with an active press corps, but an end goal that is officially sanctioned.

Tapping into the new power of the internet, along with our very old obsession with transgressive sex, these officials hope to wield the fear of public judgment in the name of the public good, arguing that prostitution is linked to far more serious crimes than we ever thought. But by taking punishment out of the hands of law enforcement and placing it in the hands of the public, whose emotions and reactions lie beyond their control, shaming campaigns can also be messy and unpredictable. And the resulting stigma can last indefinitely. “Guilt punishments make the statement, ‘You committed a bad act,’ ” writes philosopher Martha Nussbaum in her book Hiding From Humanity. “Shame punishments make the statement: ‘You are a defective type of person.’ ” Or as Yale law professor James Whitman told me, shaming “allows the general public to do the dirty work.”

The debate over officially sanctioned shaming stretches back to the earliest years of the American Republic. In 1787, just four years after the end of the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Rush, a renowned physician who had signed the Declaration of Independence, made the case against public shaming at a meeting held in Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia home: “Crimes should be punished in private or not punished at all.” If an offender’s reputation was badly sullied, he reasoned, perpetrators would have no real incentive to rehabilitate themselves. “A man who has lost his character at a whipping post has nothing valuable left to lose in society,” Rush argued. Like many reformers, Rush believed a person could find penance and rehabilitate themselves behind prison walls rather than face public humiliation in the stocks or pillories of colonial America. His advocacy for more rational, systematic, and proportional punishment spurred the creation of the country’s first modern prison administration in 1790. By the 1830s, England and France had also abandoned the pillory and branding and moved toward the penitentiary—the seemingly enlightened, civilized, technocratic alternative. “Punishment had gradually ceased to be a spectacle,” Michel Foucault writes in Discipline & Punish. “The age of sobriety in punishment had begun.”

Two centuries later, the conditions have become ripe for the spectacle of ignominy to make a comeback. America’s overcrowded, costly penal system has fallen short of its promise for rational, effective punishment. Advocates for shaming have argued it’s a cost-effective alternative—one that might prove even better at deterring future offenders, particularly when it comes to chronic social problems. Unlike pure harassment, shaming is ostensibly a moral exercise intended to enforce certain social norms. To that end, Yale law professor Dan M. Kahan argued in a landmark 1996 essay that these sanctions were more effective at expressing society’s “moral condemnation” for nonviolent crimes than either imprisonment or typical alternatives like fines or community service.

Over the years, officials have used forms of shaming to help drive the message home to perpetrators, as well as the broader public. But these sanctions are more often clever, attention-getting novelties than routine punishments. In 1979, New York’s mayor Ed Koch introduced “The John Hour,” in which he read over the public radio the names of men who had been convicted of buying sex. (It actually lasted less than two minutes and only aired once.) In 1988, a Brooklyn slumlord was sentenced to live in one of his buildings, where his tenants greeted him with a banner that read “Welcome, You Reptile.” In a 1994 domestic violence case, a court ordered an Ohio man to either pay a $100 fine or let his ex-wife spit in his face.

Today, digital technology has created a new public square in which shame may be dispensed even more quickly, cheaply, and powerfully. The internet has vastly expanded the potential audience for public ridicule and turned the enforcement of social norms into a collective pastime, while Google’s enduring memory can allow that infamy to continue without end. Such tools have heightened the appeal of using public shaming for officials who are trying to combat crimes like prostitution—an act that’s both highly salacious and not treated as a particularly grave offense by our culture or justice system. “Criminal justice is being revealed to be not as effective in terms of deterring crime, or in terms of rehabilitating [criminals],” said Police Captain Mark Gagan of Richmond, California, whose department posts mug shots of alleged johns on Facebook. “Any law enforcement official who just relies on arrests is going to have a problem.”

Operation Flush the Johns unfolded over a month, from April to May 2013. During the trial of one accused john, a police officer involved admitted there was a quota for arrests. “You were told by your superiors that until we get to a hundred we are going to keep going, correct?” asked the defense attorney, Brian Griffin. “Yes,” replied the officer, Detective Michelle Clifford. Griffin’s point was that if these cases had been brought forward individually, the arrests would barely make a blip on the radar.

And some of the men arrested drew more attention than others. The scientist, with his multiple advanced degrees, quickly became a poster child for the operation. “Two doctors, two dentists, several lawyers, two engineers, two college professors, two college students, a teacher, a stockbroker, and a car salesman,” Rice read out at her news conference. “These men,” she added, have “been given a pass for far too long.”

The scientist’s 80-year-old mother learned of his arrest from reporters, who eventually showed up at her doorstep. “The main thing going through my head was, ‘I’m never going to get a job again,’” the scientist recalled. His fears weren’t totally unfounded. The local university where he was teaching immediately asked him to resign, he said. He managed to stay on, but in a lesser role as an adjunct, at a significantly reduced salary, he noted. The law firm where he was on track for a promotion to special counsel told him they couldn’t make him such a public face of the company and kept him doing backroom contract work, he added. They were “petrified that the clients would Google my name and they would have a problem,” the scientist insisted.

Today, on Rate My Professors, a popular web site where college students evaluate their teachers, one commenter advises potential students to look up news articles about him. The scientist requested anonymity because publishing another article using his real identity would only push the story of his arrest higher up in Google’s search results.

He considered filing a civil suit against Nassau County, but ultimately decided against it—he wasn’t confident in winning, and a lawsuit would drag his name out into the public once more. And even if he were to prevail in the courts, it wouldn’t make much difference anyway, he said. “The damage is done,” the scientist concluded.

Of course, not many people are likely to take up a petition demanding justice for an alleged john, even if he was unjustly accused. But this is why we leave criminal justice to the courts: to ensure that anyone accused of a crime gets a fair trial and that any punishment fits the crime. Summoning the court of public opinion, the scientist felt, was overkill. After all, going to that hotel wasn’t “the best decision that I made,” he admitted, “but it’s not like I shot somebody.”

Louis DiMaria is trying to get his own comeuppance. He’s suing Nassau County and several police officials over Flush the Johns, alleging false arrest, defamation, and a constitutional violation of due process. The case against him was flimsier than most. That April, he was out with his friend Michael Milia, who said he needed to stop by a hotel room at the Holiday Inn Westbury in Carle Place without giving the real reason, according to his account. DiMaria went to use the bathroom, and when he came out, the police promptly arrested him. Milia pleaded guilty to soliciting sex, but prosecutors eventually dismissed the charges against DiMaria.

That only happened, though, after nearly nine months of public outcry and notoriety following Rice’s initial press conference. DiMaria owns a Long Island pizzeria, Joanne’s, with his brother, Rino, which their family opened in 1964. With Louis’s name and face all over the media and the internet, however, the restaurant began to suffer. “Overnight, we had to lose 25 percent [in business], maybe more,” Rino said.

DiMaria did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but his lawyer Salvatore Marinello said the fallout from the sting operation affected his life in other ways as well. A former high school wrestling champion, DiMaria was forced to give up coaching student athletes, Marinello said. And while DiMaria’s marriage was in trouble even before his arrest, the episode “exacerbated the situation,” as Marinello put it, and his wife ultimately went ahead with the divorce.

DiMaria’s lawsuit alleges that prosecutors published the men’s names and photographs “for the express purpose of publicly humiliating them despite the lack of probable cause and presumption of innocence.” And the original publicity may ultimately have been the most severe consequence.

Initially, Nassau County charged the 104 johns with a Class A misdemeanor for “patronizing a prostitute in the third degree”—a charge that can carry up to a year in prison and up to a $1,000 fine in New York state. But then, in the summer of 2014, a year after her triumphant press conference, Rice shifted course: So long as they attended a brief class on sex trafficking and exploitation, any of the men who hadn’t yet gone to trial could plead guilty to disorderly conduct, which is not a criminal offense and would not show up on a typical background check. It’s the kind of slap on the wrist people get for arguing too loudly in public or blocking traffic. (Defense attorneys argue Rice shifted course only after it was clear the county was losing the cases that went to court; Rice said she “evaluated the strength of the cases and the plea options as the cases progressed,” according to her spokesman Coleman Lamb.)

Court proceedings revealed the police hadn’t recorded the initial phone calls the men had made, making it far harder to prove they had intended to buy sex. Police had set up video cameras inside hotel rooms, but the footage didn’t always fit the alleged crime. In the case of the scientist, for example, though some of the dialogue was difficult to make out over the background noise, the tape appeared to confirm his account: He had complained about back pain and asked for a massage, according to the scientist’s defense attorney and Newsday’s report from the trial.

In the end, 18 men pled guilty to the misdemeanor charge, 67 pled guilty to disorderly conduct, six were acquitted, including the scientist, one was designated as a youthful offender—a teenager whose records are sealed—and seven cases were dismissed. Of the 104 men originally arrested in Operation Flush the Johns, only one was convicted at trial. (As of this February, three cases are still pending, and a warrant is still out for one man’s arrest.)

Today, Rice and Nassau County both deny that Flush the Johns went out of its way to shame anyone or treat their arrests differently. The biggest difference, Rice argues, was that our culture continues to view prostitution as a “socially acceptable crime,” unlike other offenses. “Every DA’s office puts out a press release when they make arrests—there are pictures of people accused of murder,” she told me in a recent interview. Her congressional spokesman maintained that the alleged johns’ photos and names “were disseminated and treated in the same way public information surrounding any criminal arrest is.” In fact, the week before Rice’s press conference announcing the sting operation’s success, her office had issued a press release with the mug shots of twelve people arrested for defrauding public programs like Medicaid.

“This was not ‘shaming’ nor was it intended to be—this was enforcing the law and raising awareness of a violent industry that too many people don’t consider to even be criminal,” said Shams Tarek, a spokesman for the Nassau County District Attorney’s office. “The wealthy college-educated professional and the poor drug dealer deserve the same treatment by the justice system every day of the year; some people want different sets of justice systems for different kinds of defendants, and that’s wrong.”

Any shame the men felt, Rice asserted, is inherent in the crime. “The shaming has everything to do with the fact that a lot of these men were married with children,” she said. At the same time, Rice remains adamant that the threat of public exposure was enough to make the operation a success. “I don’t have any doubt that some potential johns wouldn’t pay for sex if they were going to be outed in a public way,” she said.

For Rice, this was a crusade to address a problem the justice system had allowed to fester for far too long. Like many other anti-trafficking advocates, she embraces the so-called “Nordic model” for fighting prostitution by arresting buyers, not sellers—an approach Sweden pioneered in the 1990s. “With the old way of dealing with prostitution, they targeted the prostitutes—they were punishing people, mostly women, who were mostly forced into this at a young age,” she said. Meanwhile, she continued, officials were giving a pass to men fueling the demand for sex, “contributing to a trade that exploits people who are physically and emotionally vulnerable.” In New York state, that could make them victims of sex trafficking, which is defined as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to profit from prostitution, including providing drugs. Any sex worker under 18 is considered a trafficking victim.

Such arguments are part of a gnarly, ongoing debate over whether sex work is inherently coercive, and how much forced labor really happens in the industry. “When you’re shaming people you’re not just shaming them for abusive behavior, you’re shaming them for a consensual adult activity,” said Savannah Sly, a Seattle sex worker and president of the Sex Worker Outreach Project USA. While there are certainly cases of force and coercion, the relationships between sex workers and pimps is far more complex than many anti-trafficking advocates claim, said Anthony Marcus, an anthropologist at the City University of New York who published a prominent study of underage sex workers. “It’s a little bit of a moral panic—it’s a hysterical discourse that’s gotten out of control,” he said of the most strident anti-trafficking campaigns.

But Rice believes there’s far greater harm in trying to downplay the problem. During court proceedings for Flush the Johns, two Nassau County judges refused to let prosecutors use the phrase “human trafficking.” For Rice, it was just another reminder that society doesn’t want to take these crimes seriously—particularly when the alleged perpetrators are middle-class professionals. “They’re criminals,” Rice said of men who solicit sex. “They’re criminals!”

Prostitution has been particularly impervious to traditional crime-fighting tactics, prompting authorities to look for alternatives. “If you are arrested and convicted of solicitation, it’s a slap on the wrist, and there’s really no room in jail to put these people anyway,” Michael Ramos, district attorney of San Bernardino County, told me. “We can’t really increase punishment, especially in my state of California—that’s not really going to happen.”

In 2013, Ramos launched an official “Stop the John” web page featuring the names and faces of convicted johns for one year. It cost practically nothing to set up and quickly took off. “It’s been amazing looking at the analytics,” he said; his spokesman later noted the site has received 150,000 hits to date. His spokesman proudly pointed out that many of the visitors came from escort and sex-worker review web sites that warned potential johns to avoid the San Bernardino area.

Unlike Nassau County, Ramos posts photos only of convicted johns—in order “to protect their due process,” he said. But he believes the great harms of prostitution vastly outweigh the potential harms of shaming to the johns and their families. “When you balance it out, what these young victims are going through—kidnapped, raped, tortured—when I balance that, it’s not even close,” he said.

That doesn’t mean shaming will always have the intended effect. There’s always a chance the public won’t latch onto a given case. And even if officials wanted to maximize the amount of shame, they don’t always know how to leverage social media and PR to rack up millions of views. However, unlike public shaming spurred on by private, often anonymous, individuals, shaming that’s sanctioned by law enforcement has “a whole other imprimatur of credibility,” said Danielle Citron, a University of Maryland law professor who studies online harassment. It’s a clear signal for media outlets and private citizens to pile on, all in the name of the public good, which Citron sees as a threat to the foundational principles of our legal system. “The reason that we have law is to take it out of the hands of the mob, the Hobbesian nightmare,” she said. “The point of procedural due process is to get the greatest chance of an accurate result.” Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, added, “It’s effectively law enforcement anointing themselves as judge, jury, and public shamer.”

But the force of public scrutiny is exactly why Yesenia Rogers believes shaming can be so effective. As a police officer, she patrols a hub of street prostitution on the 23rd Street strip in Richmond, California. In 2014, the police department shifted its focus to the buyers instead of the sellers, issuing news releases and posting the men’s names and mug shots on Facebook. “The first thing they say is, ‘Don’t put me on the news,’ ” Rogers said. Having witnessed the physical and mental abuse of underage sex workers, she isn’t too sympathetic to men who complain about being shamed. “They know that’s what we do,” she told me. “Why do they go out and do that, then go home and cry about it?”

Despite the changing nature of shame, there still isn’t much legal recourse in the U.S. for the targets of shaming. In a 1976 Supreme Court case, Paul v. Davis, a Kentucky man sued after local police distributed a flyer that described him as an “active shoplifter,” only to later dismiss the charges. The Court ruled against him, concluding that reputational injury alone doesn’t impede one’s liberty and trigger the protections of due process.

Individuals have since brought similar suits forward in state courts, but they’ve often had difficulty winning. To sue the government successfully, it’s not enough to claim your reputation was damaged. You have to prove there was some kind of material damage, which can be hard to quantify, explained Citron. “It’s tough to prove the job you don’t get, the people who Google you and never tell you that you’re not considered.”

The European Court of Justice’s recent “right to be forgotten” ruling requires search engines to remove personally damaging links in results on the principle of protecting individuals’ dignity. But there are no equivalent protections in U.S. law, which has a different conception of individual liberty and stronger First Amendment protections. One accused john on Long Island told me he went to a reputation management company because he worried his nine-year-old daughter would find incriminating stories and web sites while she was on the internet. But that digital trail can’t be scrubbed clean, only buried further down in the search results.

Rowland, the lawyer for the ACLU, believes the use of mug shots to shame those arrested—regardless of the crime—is broadly troubling. “There is no question that traditional arrest records and basic details must be absolutely public. Photographs pose more complex questions about privacy versus that accountability—there are very few instances where a photograph is a necessary piece of accountability,” she said. Once such photos are released, she added, the First Amendment means there’s no going back. “Photographs are a clickbait commodity—unlike mundane details of the arrest, they have a market online,” she said. “There is an incredible risk that you will give someone a permanent digital scarlet letter that they simply don’t deserve.”

The potential harms have raised concerns even among those who believe society needs to be tougher on the johns who fuel the demand for prostitution. In the Seattle area, prosecutors have ramped up sting operations to arrest johns to combat sex trafficking. But while they’ve publicized the fact they’re making such arrests, they’ve decided not to go out of their way to name and shame individual perpetrators in their press releases. “It’s not really justice—it’s pointing fingers at somebody,” said Valiant Richey, senior deputy prosecutor in Washington’s King County. “The public might want to hear that information, but we don’t view it as our roles as prosecutors to hammer on it.”

Even some advocates of shaming admit the potential harms and legal concerns have given them pause. Gagan, the Richmond, California, police captain, expressed some misgivings about his department’s practice of posting johns’ mug shots online upon their arrest. “They have emerged as the face forever—I don’t like that level of influence and authority without checks and balances,” Gagan told me. “I don’t like the feeling that we can be the morality police.”

When the program officially launched in 2014, Gagan said he was taken aback by the public’s response. On the Facebook page where police posted the mug shots, commenters began adding other personal details about the men arrested, including their workplaces and home addresses. The young daughter of one of the accused men called Gagan crying hysterically, begging him to take down the photo of her father. One of the accused johns even told the police captain he lost his job because of the john-shaming web site. “His boss had seen it, and he was fired,” Gagan said. “He worked in a nursing home.”

Having seen the collateral damage of shaming, Gagan made some changes to the campaign in Richmond. “I’m keenly aware that things live on the internet forever, and that family members are very affected, as well as the offender,” he said. Richmond police now post the mug shots on Facebook for three days, then take them down. The names and faces, however, can still live on indefinitely as part of Google’s cache, or if they’re reported in the media. And there’s a whole cottage industry of web sites that post mug shots so they appear prominently in web searches and only remove them if you pay a fee.

Gagan believes taking the images down after three days is a reasonable compromise—and that it’s critical to keep the shaming tactic alive in some form, given the seriousness of sex trafficking and the failure of the traditional criminal justice system to combat it. Local Richmond residents have been enthusiastic, too, said Officer Rogers, recounting community meetings she attended after the initiative began. “They love the fact that we’re doing more for the guys, not just arresting the girls,” she said. “They love the fact that we’re shaming them.”

There is only limited proof, however, that shaming actually reduces prostitution or sex trafficking. Shaming advocates point to anecdotal accounts of success. Rogers, for instance, said she’s seen fewer repeat offenders in Richmond since the shaming program began. In 2013, Dr. Joel Ziff, a sex-addiction therapist in Boston, conducted a small survey of former sex buyers who said being “found out” by their spouses was the most frequent and significant reason they stopped patronizing sex workers. Individual police departments have reported reductions in citizen complaints about prostitution after arresting and shaming johns, according to a 2012 study funded by the National Institute of Justice

But advocates admit it’s inherently difficult to quantify the impact. “Johns were never or rarely prosecuted in Nassau County before Rice took office, which means there’s no solid baseline or perfectly credible way to measure how much it’s happening or to what extent it’s being deterred,” Rice’s spokesman said. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t have good reason to believe it’s had an effect.” Local advocates for trafficked and abused women have also been enthused about such crackdowns. “There has been an increase in accountability for the buyers, and I think that’s a good thing,” said Lauren Hersh, director of anti-trafficking advocacy for Sanctuary for Families in New York. “For a very long time, the wrong people have been criminalized.”

Women have long borne the brunt of public shaming, particularly when it comes to sex, which is why it may be all the more tempting to turn the tables. In the public eye, however, these johns aren’t guilty because they are enabling the violent exploitation of women. Instead, shaming “104 horndogs” derives its real power through exposing illicit sex that we as a society still consider to be private, indecent, and immoral, evoking The Scarlet Letter more than the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report.

And while officials have embraced shaming in the name of helping victimized sex workers, there is potential fallout for them as well. Analyzing the criminalization of sex buyers in Canada, one peer-reviewed study in the medical journal BMJ Open also found other harms to the workers, who were “displaced to outlying areas with increased risks of violence, including being forced to engage in unprotected sex.” Sly, the sex worker and advocate, says shaming makes it more difficult to vet potential clients, given the heightened stakes of being publicly outed. “They’re not going to give that information up, so we can’t screen them very well,” she said.

As writer and former sex worker Melissa Gira Grant recounts in her book, Playing the Whore, Nassau County has also apprehended scores of women for selling sex. Rice believes that it’s the only way some can receive the help they need, or else “there’s no impetus to leave the life behind,” explained her spokesman. Rice supported a human-trafficking court that focuses on cases of sex workers arrested for prostitution; in the same year as Flush the Johns, the court handled 295 cases. The trafficking court is intended to help victims of “modern-day slavery,” directing them to social services and giving them noncriminal dispositions. But they have to be arrested first.

The ubiquity of shaming, and the collateral damage it can inflict, may eventually shift the legal interpretation of reputational harm and the right to privacy. A decade after publishing his landmark pro-shaming essay, Kahan recanted his position, saying such sanctions tended to reinforce social hierarchies and “coerced conformity” over individuality and egalitarian values. “For some, even milder publicity sanctions—the posting of the pictures of men convicted of soliciting prostitutes on billboards or internet sites—project a frightening image of the state self-consciously wielding the cudgel of public denunciation to cow reluctant individuals into obedience,” he wrote in 2006.

In recent years, there’s been some effort by authorities to limit the shame the legal system can impose, regardless of the crime. In 2012, the U.S. Marshals Service made it a general policy not to release mug shots unless there’s a pressing law-enforcement reason to do so—if there’s a notorious fugitive on the loose, for example. The agency will now release mug shots only if “the public interest in the requested booking photograph outweighs the privacy interest at stake.”

Back on Long Island, defense attorney Brian Griffin was making some headway even before Flush the Johns. Five years before he took on some of the accused johns as clients, he represented a woman who successfully forced Nassau County to alter its digital Wall of Shame for those arrested for drunk driving. In a 2008 ruling, a New York state court ruled that the “limitless and eternal notoriety” created by the web site caused specific harm to the individuals being shamed—and thus constituted a due-process violation. In response, the county changed its policy to post DWI mug shots only after conviction, rather than post-arrest.

It’s a notable ruling, in light of the 1976 Supreme Court case; it may help explain why Flush the Johns didn’t have a dedicated web site for shaming and simply held a press conference instead. But Griffin believes attitudes will continue to change as internet notoriety becomes increasingly common. “It’s very hard to quantify reputational damage from a personal and business perspective,” he said. “But as we move further into the digital age, I think courts will start to really understand how—quantifiable or not—it’s real.”