NSO’s John School

A school custodian.  A merchant seaman.  Two navy men.  A shipyard worker.  A state transportation worker and a mechanic.  Men with varied backgrounds.  The majority are not from Norfolk, five of the seven are married and all are convicted of soliciting for sex.

Statistically speaking, their crime isn’t noteworthy. What is worthy of closer examination, however, is the success rate of their punishment.  In 2001, the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office, in conjunction with the Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office developed a John School for first time offenders.  This court-ordered, two day weekend sentence spares the convicted criminal misdemeanant up to 90 days in jail if he successfully completes the school.  The goal of the program is to focus attention on the personal and community impact of commercial sex.

“Here in Norfolk we have prostitutes, drug dealers and school buses using the same street corner. That’s a problem; it’s a very real part of life,” John School Instructor Charlie Fleetwood explains to the men.

We decided to revisit the John School after first reporting on it eight years ago. Since its inception, 473 men or “Johns” as they’re referred to when they’ve solicited prostitutes, have finished the program. More importantly, not one of them has re-offended.

Anna Decker, also a John School Instructor, greets the offenders before sunrise.  “They’re scared, shy, intimidated and don’t know what to expect,” according to Decker.  They’ve simply been told by a judge to report for John School.  “School” consists of a powerful picture presentation of the health risks and devastating effects of sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s),  straight talk about the money trail – usually from john to prostitute to pimp-and a lesson in how trolling for personal satisfaction scars the reputations of communities.

“The sex act itself is not the end of what’s going on,” Don Musacchio, President of the
Willoughby Civic League, tells the offenders.  He assures them there’s more to it, including stealing from others and crimes against property to feed drug habits.”  By the end of the class, Musacchio invites them to return to Norfolk, “if you cannot behave yourself… stay the hell out,” he insists.

Johns are required to undergo a blood test which is administered by the Norfolk Health Department at the start of the class.   The men must go to the health department for the results. Mike Broschart, a health counselor with the Norfolk Health Department doesn’t mince words when lecturing to the men about sexually transmitted diseases.  “Herpes is the gift that keeps on giving,” he tells them and encourages that they be tested for STD’s.

Day Two of their sentence is a community service component.   The johns are sent back into the area where they went looking for sex.  This time, however, they’re required to pick up trash.  It’s one way of working off their debt to society. It’s also a civics lesson to teach them how communities can’t completely polish their tarnished image so long as money talks.

Editors Note: Norfolk‘s John School was one of the first programs in the United States.  Since 2001, 40 other communities in 24 states, including Washington, DC, West Palm Beach, FL, Buffalo, NY, Los Angeles, CA, and Brooklyn, NY., have implemented John School Programming.

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