Norfolk , VA

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

Norfolk, Virginia has well documented prostitution and sex trafficking activity.  A serial killer of prostituted women also operated in Norfolk at one time.  The city has established a relatively tough and varied response to sex buyers that has been in place for the past decade.

John School

The Norfolk Sheriff’s Office has conducted reverse stings for a longer period of time, but in 2001 established a program for arrested and convicted sex buyers that is varied and mandatory, and couples relatively punitive sanctions with education and restitution.  The johns must attend a Johns School that is mandatory and a condition of a sentence, and is not a diversion program.  They must pay several fees and fines that can add up to beyond $1500, and perform at least eight hours of community service.  For arrested sex buyers, a 1st arrest results in the offer of a plea agreement.  The sentence in exchange for a guilty plea involves:

  • Two years of unsupervised probation (unsupervised probation is functionally similar to a suspended sentence, where all conditions imposed by the court must be met – such as attending class, avoiding arrest, and community service).  Failure to meet the conditions of probation result in negation of the plea agreement, and the men may be ordered to serve jail time and/or pay additional fines and/or perform community service.
  • Pay a $500 to $1,500 fine.  If the John is caught in a sting operation (and most are), then the judge will impose fines on the higher end of the spectrum because the stings are costly to run.
  • Attendance at the Johns School (one Saturday, up to two hours).
  • Perform at least eight hours of community service on the Sunday following the john school.
  • Pay a $15 supervision fee for each day on community service detail.

The stated goal of the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office Prostitution Intervention Program is “to alleviate streetwalking prostitution in the City of Norfolk.” The Norfolk Sheriff’s Office “John School” is offered six times a year. Participants are required to report to the Norfolk City Jail to be booked at 6:45 am on a Saturday. Transportation is provided to an area recreation center where they are tested for Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD), which is paid for by the individuals, and learn about the health risks associated with prostitution. There is also a presentation by former prostitutes and a “restorative justice confrontation” with various community leaders. The program continues on Sunday with a Community Service day, which includes work projects selected by the Civic leaders in the neighborhoods where the Johns are arrested. The first John School was held September 9, 2001. Through November, 2018, oOver 550 offenders had completed the program in over 40 John School sessions, which have been held at the Recreation Centers in Ocean View, Park Place, Huntersville and Little Creek. No John School graduates have been re-arrested. Interested persons may call (757) 664-4705 for information about the next John School date, time and location.

Community Service Program

In the program of the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office, sex buyers are required to serve eight hours of community service.  It usually occurs on a Sunday and begins between 7:30-8:00 AM.  The community service program for johns is coupled with the john school, a brief educational intervention that occurs on the previous day.  If the john school gets out early on Saturday, then the johns will sometimes pick up trash downtown for an hour or so and then continue the next day.  On the full day of community service, johns are added to community service details for other kinds of low-level offenders, and perform a range of jobs such as painting buildings and cleaning public areas.

The kinds of service details that occur are driven by civic leagues.  The Sheriff’s Office sends out press releases and mass emails every six months about whom to contact at the Sheriff’s Office about community service they would like performed.  The civic league president makes the request, and the sites that would make use of the community service labor must be the city, the state, or a nonprofit 501c3 organization.

A Norfolk Sheriff’s Office Major and other supervisors review the requests; particularly important is ensuring that the sites selected to receive the service are appropriate – they use GIS and mapping to ensure that it is city, state, or nonprofit 501c3.  When a candidate site is questionable, the Major goes on-site to examine the situation.  For example, with requests for landscaping, carpentry, or cutting down trees in wetlands, they must ensure that there is a valid permit in place for that action.

Also important is making the best use of the community service labor, and ensuring public safety while it is being performed.  When the sex buyers (and others) show up for community service, they have to sign in and complete an application/interview.  The Sheriff’s Office staff can see if they have some particular skills and can assign them to suitable types of tasks (especially where carpentry, painting, or operating equipment are concerned). Types of community service to which sex buyers can be assigned:

  • Cleaning the grounds of schools, parks, soccer fields, football fields
  • Painting
  • Carpentry
  • Unloading food and supplies for the local zoo, and some zoo cleanup
  • Putting up tents, tables, and chairs for public events

Norfolk usually has about 75 individuals doing community service every Saturday and Sunday, and about 60 every week day.  Every second month or so, the details will include approximately 10 to 15 who are convicted sex buyers that have attended the Johns School.  Sex buyers are charged $15 per day for a supervision fee while performing community service.

The community service program is designed by the Sheriff’s Office for all types of offenders.  It is not a service program that has been created for sex buyers specifically.  Sex buyers are funneled into the Sunday weekend crew of the larger community service program, after attending the Johns School class on the previous Saturday.  However, the Sheriff’s Office will often assign johns to community service details in the area where they were arrested to make the point that they have to give back to the community that they have harmed in various ways, such as by providing the revenue stream for local commercial sex markets, and drawing pimps and drug dealers to neighborhoods.  They may also avoid sites that may be sensitive to having arrested sex buyers on their grounds, such as a public daycare center or domestic violence shelter.


Key Partners

  • Norfolk Sheriff’s Office
  • Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office
  • Norfolk Health Department
  • Over 190 civic leagues that participate in community service program, e.g., Willoughby Civic League

Key Sources

State Virginia
Type City
Population 235747
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