Men found guilty of buying sex sent to school in Henrico - NBC12.com - Richmond, VA News

Men found guilty of buying sex sent to school in Henrico

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HENRICO, VA (WWBT) -

If you're found guilty of trying to buy a prostitute in Henrico, you may now find yourself in a classroom as part of your punishment. It's called the Henrico Johns School. First-time offenders are being sent here.

So far, only men have gone through it. Organizers hope those who are convicted of trying to buy sex will start to see many of these women as victims and realize there is a connection to human trafficking. Organizers say there is no other program like it in the Richmond Metro area, but does it work.

The search for a prostitute rarely takes the buyer to a random street corner nowadays. Instead, it is becoming common for these 'johns' to use an online search engine to pick a woman; then make the proposition to buy them. The ads are explicit and can be found on several popular websites.

Police are making the arrests, which does come with some jail time and community service. But now, Henrico County is taking a different approach: If found guilty of soliciting a prostitute, you will find yourself in a classroom.

"Sometimes people seek out prostitutes because of specific sex acts," said Ryan Arey, the head counselor for the Henrico Johns School. "The predominant group of men that we have tend to be white-collar, white men who are middle-aged."

Arey said they tend to also be professionals with high paying jobs, and this is their first time being charged with soliciting a prostitute. The program is almost a year old. The classes started with just two clients, and now it's grown ten times that number. Some of those men have told their families about this class, others have kept it a secret.

The class lasts the entire day and is broken down into categories. First, hat motivates a person to buy sex?  "Some of the things we've seen in our group members are loneliness, marital issues major life changes," said Arey.

The class then goes into legal consequences, health risks and the effects of prostitution on these women and on the community. Organizers hope to change the johns' mindsets. There are visuals including a progression of mug shots showing the physical deterioration of women arrested for prostitution.

"I think there's a belief that this is a life that women are choosing because they enjoy it, that it's because it's economically viable and it's something fun for them to do," Arey said. "I don't think any of our group members really understand the pain and hardship a prostituted woman goes through."

Another focus of the class is showing that some of these women are victims of human trafficking. "That money would automatically be going to a drug dealer, automatically be going to a pimp, automatically going to a gang member," saidHenrico Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Mike Feinmel. He says the class is working. "None of the guys are coming back again."

Feinmel said so far, these johns have not been re-arrested and he's pretty happy with the results.

"If we can take away some of the demand, then hopefully we can take away some of the desire of people to come to our area and engage in this kind of behavior," he said.

The Henrico Johns School is organized through Commonwealth Catholic Charities. Those found guilty of soliciting a prostitute in Henrico County must also serve some jail time, community service and answer to a probation officer.

If you know anyone who may be a human trafficking victim, you can get them help through these organizations:

The Gray Haven Project

Richmond Justice Initiative

Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services- Human Trafficking

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