Norfolk , VA

Tactics Used

Auto Seizure
Buyer Arrests
Community Service
Employment Loss
Identity Disclosure
IT Based Tactics
John School
License Suspension
Neighborhood Action
Public Education
Reverse Stings
SOAP Orders
Web Stings

Norfolk is a waterfront city in southeastern Virginia that has a population of approximately 245,000, and is home to a massive naval base on Chesapeake Bay. The city has had substantial, well-documented prostitution activity for decades, and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates results in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market are sex trafficking and related violence. For example, a serial killer of prostituted women also operated in Norfolk at one time.

To combat the wide range of crimes and community disorder inevitably accompanying prostitution, the city had employed tactics that focused on deterring consumer level demand.  The Norfolk Sheriff’s Office had conducted reverse stings since at least the early 1990s, and in 2001 established a program for arrested and convicted sex buyers that was varied and mandatory, and coupled relatively punitive sanctions with education and restitution efforts. While the city had established an aggressive and varied response to sex buyers that lasted for about 15 years, demand reduction is no longer pursued there, to our knowledge.  Prostitution sting operations have not been conducted since about 2015 – and ceased altogether in 2018 – and consequently, the post arrest interventions with sex buyers – described below – have ceased as well.  The john school program that was coupled with community service, fines, and fees was disbanded due to a lack of arrests and inadequate flow of offenders to the program to be sustainable. A respondent to the 2021 National Assessment survey attributed the declining numbers of prostitution arrests to a number of factors, including a 30% reduction in the local number of sworn officers and the limited remaining resources deployed toward enforcing felonies.  Contributing factors include the closing and demolition of numerous inexpensive motels, homes built in undeveloped spaces that had been used for prostitution, and prostitution becoming arranged online and conducted indoors in apartments scattered throughout the region, making it harder to detect and less visible other residents.

John School

Sex buyers were required to attend a John School that was mandatory and a condition of a sentence, and was not a diversion program.  They were required to pay several fees and fines that could total more than $1500, and to perform at least eight hours of community service.  For arrested sex buyers, a 1st arrest resulted in the offer of a plea agreement.  The sentence in exchange for a guilty plea involved:

  • 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 resulted in negation of the plea agreement, and the men could 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 sex buyer was caught in a sting operation (and most were), then the judge would impose fines on the higher end of the spectrum because the stings were costly to run.
  • Attendance at the John 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 was “to alleviate streetwalking prostitution in the City of Norfolk.” The Norfolk Sheriff’s Office “John School” was offered six times a year. Participants were required to report to the Norfolk City Jail to be booked at 6:45 am on a Saturday. Transportation was provided to an area recreation center where they were tested for Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD), which was paid for by the sex buyers, and learn about the health risks associated with prostitution. There was also a presentation by formerly prostituted women and a “restorative justice confrontation” with various community leaders. The program continued on Sunday with a Community Service day, which included work projects selected by the Civic leaders in the neighborhoods where the sex buyers were arrested. The first John School was held September 9, 2001. Through November, 2018, over 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 were required to serve eight hours of community service.  It usually occurred on a Sunday and began between 7:30-8:00 AM.  The community service program for sex buyers was coupled with the john school, a brief educational intervention that occurred on the previous day.  If the john school got out early on Saturday, then the sex buyers would sometimes pick up trash downtown for an hour or so and then continued the next day.  On the full day of community service, offenders were added to community service details for other kinds of low-level crimes, and performed a range of jobs such as painting buildings and cleaning public areas. The kinds of service details that occurred were driven by civic leagues.  The Sheriff’s Office sent 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 made the request, and the sites that would make use of the community service labor had to be the city, the state, or a nonprofit 501c3 organization. A Norfolk Sheriff’s Office Major and other supervisors reviewed the requests; particularly important was ensuring that the sites selected to receive the service were appropriate.  They used GIS and mapping to ensure that it was a city, state, or nonprofit 501c3.  When a candidate site was questionable, the Major went on-site to examine the situation.  For example, with requests for landscaping, carpentry, or cutting down trees in wetlands, they tried to ensure that there was a valid permit in place for that action. Also important was making the best use of community service labor, and ensuring public safety while it was being performed.  When the sex buyers (and others) showed up for community service, they had to sign in and complete an application/interview.  The Sheriff’s Office staff would determine if the men had some particular skill and could assign them to suitable types of tasks (especially where carpentry, painting, or operating equipment were concerned). Types of community service to which sex buyers could 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 had about 75 individuals doing community service every Saturday and Sunday, and about 60 every week day.  Every second month or so, the details included approximately 10 to 15 men who were  convicted sex buyers that had attended the John School.  Sex buyers were charged $15 per day for a supervision fee while performing community service. The community service program was designed by the Sheriff’s Office for all types of offenders, and it was not a service program that was created for sex buyers specifically.  Sex buyers were funneled into the Sunday weekend crew of the larger community service program, after attending the John School class on the previous Saturday.  However, the Sheriff’s Office would often assign sex buyers 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 would also avoid sites that were sensitive to having arrested sex buyers on their grounds, such as a public daycare center or domestic violence shelter.

Employment Loss

Loss of employment was another consequence for arrested sex buyers that had occurred locally.  For example, in August, 2013 the No. 2 man in the Sheriff’s Office was arrested and charged in a police prostitution sting. The man had been with the office for 34 years, and was placed on paid personal leave. The Sheriff’s Office said it would wait until the case went through court before making a decision on the man’s employment status.  The offender submitted his retirement papers shortly thereafter. City police had made prostitution arrests during an undercover reverse sting operation at a hotel in the 6200 block of Northampton Blvd.

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

National Assessment Survey, Interview and Site Visit – 2011

National Assessment Survey, Interview – 2021 Norfolk Sheriff’s Office’s Annual Reports

John School:

Street-Level Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings:

Community Service:

Neighborhood Action:

Loss of Employment:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation, Related CSAM in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

Norfolk Municipal Prostitution Ordinance:

State Virginia
Type City
Population 235747
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