Richmond, VA

Tactics Used

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

Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and has a population of approximately 200,000. Prostitution and sex trafficking of teens have been identified as substantial local problems by law enforcement as problems in the city, and residents have complained to police about prostitution in certain neighborhoods.  In 2015, new laws took effect in Virginia that feature more severe consequences for those who profit from prostitution and sex trafficking, and rehabilitation for women and girls who generate the revenue. The legislation was effective July 1, and increases exposure to penitentiary time, dramatically increasing prison time in cases where a juvenile is involved, incorporates the use of multijurisdictional grand juries, and adds as a crime the mere recruitment of females into the sex trade.

Since 1990 police have conducted reverse stings resulting in hundreds of arrests of sex buyers.  Some of the men are required to adhere to SOAP orders, restricting their presence in areas of the city known for prostitution. Neighborhoods have mobilized against prostitution, including efforts to deter johns.  Residents with small children in one neighborhood were finding condoms and syringes in their backyards. To combat prostitution in one area, the West Grace Street Association was formed to patrol the area on foot in the late hours of weekends to deter cruising johns.   The North Side Neighborhood Team has pursued similar tactics in order to make johns “uncomfortable” in their neighborhood.

A 1994 city ordinance allows police to ticket motorists (presumed johns) who pass the same point more than two times in the same direction within a restricted area; fines may reach up to $100. To make the ordinance correspond with state law, the Richmond City Council added a provision that motorists cannot pass the point more than two times in the same direction in a three-hour period, between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m.  The area must be clearly marked with signs, and the areas to be marked are determined by the city council or the chief of police.

In addition to the anti-cruising ordinance, Richmond installed 12 surveillance cameras as part of an Electronic Neighborhood Watch program to deter all criminal activity and to provide police with investigative information.  With funding contributed by the Fan District Association, the city installed six still cameras called FlashCams. When motion is detected (up to 100 feet away), the FlashCam flashes and takes pictures, and it also has the capability to issue a loud digital-voice warning.  Another use of cameras was informal:  a member of the West Grace Street Association has used the flash from a camera to try to deter johns as they drive by.

The city also has a “john school” program, designed to educate arrested sex buyers about the harm to them their families, and communities caused by prostitution.  The program attempts to have men assess their personal motivations for paying for sex and requires that they develop a personal prevention plan.  The class is facilitated with a collaboration including the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, Henrico Health Department, and The Gray Haven.  Class participation requires a fee of $300 and meet 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM.  For men court ordered to attend, progress is reported to probation officers.  Prior to enrolling, arrestees need to participate in an assessment with a counselor.  Assessments are $60 and scheduled by appointment only.  For appointments and questions call 804.545.5907

Key Sources



State Virginia
Type City
Population 200123
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