An advocacy group for sex workers in Sudbury says it hopes a new billboard will get the community talking about the people who buy sex.

The billboard, which will be put up this weekend at the corner of Kathleen and College streets, depicts a youth holding a sign that says "Dear John: our youth are not for sale."

A john is another name for the client of a sex worker.

An advocate with Project PEACE, a Sudbury group that lobbies for the rights of sex workers, said sex workers frequently express their opinions about johns.

"They don't like johns as men," Christine Schmidt said. "They don't respect them. They think that these are men who took advantage of the fact that they were at a time in their life where they were engaging in something that — given equal circumstances — they wouldn't be doing. These men are more than willing to take advantage of that … to have their sexual needs met."

'Name it as a problem'

Project PEACE had a similar billboard up last year that read "Real Men Don't Buy Girls." Schmidt said that sign prompted some women come forward to share their experience as sex workers.

The latest sign is witness to the fact many people are no longer willing to allow johns to lurk in the shadows, Schmidt said.

"And they use that anonymity to continue to engage in conduct that clearly is causing harm to a segment of the population," she said.

"So for us, before we can even start to have real dialogue, we have to bring this out into the open and we need to be able to name it as a problem."

By putting the spotlight on the johns, the group hopes to curb the demand for sex workers, she added.