John school used to reduce demand for prostitution in Rochester
Rochester police capped a year-long prostitution crackdown in December with their most ambitious sting in recent memory, in two days arresting 18 men for allegedly soliciting undercover female officers.
If convicted, the men are likely to face a trip to a brick police station on the fringe of downtown St. Paul, where they'll hear some choice words from a woman formerly involved in prostitution, Joy Friedman.
"We punish, yet we educate them so they can see their part in this and understand it," said Friedman, 48, coordinator of the Offenders' Prostitution Program, or john school. The one-day class is intended to turn them away from prostitution for good.
Olmsted County District Court judges recently started requiring first-time offenders to attend the classes organized by Breaking Free, a St. Paul nonprofit organization that assists women and girls who have been involved in prostitution.
Contrary to popular belief, men who solicit prostitutes in Rochester usually aren't visitors from far-flung places, but men who live in Rochester and surrounding communities, said Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem.
As authorities try to reduce demand for prostitution, Ostrem said the "john school" could play an important role by preventing repeat offenses.
"If we don't provide some sense of rehabilitation, they're going to be right out there again, and that just continues to re-victimize the women," he said.
On a recent Saturday, a group of Twin Cities offenders required to attend john school listened as a stocky lawyer with a handlebar mustache started the day's presentations.
"Nobody wants to be here, right? Right?" he said.
He told them they were lucky to be taking a class and not in jail or injured in a beating administered by thieves working with a prostitute. He also talked about show sex trafficking and sexual slavery "is so dark, and so bad," that none of them wants to be involved with it.
"I'm trying to make your stomach turn, gentlemen, OK?" said the speaker, who asked that he not be named here so he could speak freely — in other words bluntly and with profanity — to the class.
Ostrem said he learned about the school while his office talked with Breaking Free about programs it offers to help women escape prostitution.
The school "is exactly the kind of program we feel is important to try and curb the amount of this activity that's going on," he said.