People who solicit prostitutes in Oakland, California, could find their faces plastered on billboards under a new shaming program that one civil rights group calls bad public policy.
The city of 400,000 across the bay from San Francisco started putting up billboards on Wednesday showing men arrested for soliciting sex. Other signs invite prostitutes to quit by calling a help line.
"This idea came out of just thinking about new ideas, doing something to deal with this increasing problem, especially with the exploitation of underage women," said Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, who champions the approach.
The photos on the billboards were partially blurred so the men are not easily identifiable. But in the future photos might be displayed unaltered, an aide to De La Fuente said.
Critics say the technique -- which De La Fuente said has been used in Texas -- recalls medieval public humiliations.
"It doesn't seem to us to be appropriate for Oakland to be using shaming as an additional and extrajudicial punishment to single out this group of offenders," said Alan Schlosser, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union for Northern California. "We don't think this is good public policy."
Some newspapers have long printed the names of those soliciting sex for money, and courts have backed punishments that include shaming. Last year a U.S. federal appeals court allowed a punishment in which a mail thief had to wear a signboard telling of his crime.