PORTLAND—Thirty men, of all ages and races, sat quietly in a room with blank white walls. They all pleaded guilty to a crime Portland has largely turned a blind eye to, until now - the crime of soliciting prostitutes.
These men are in john school to wipe their records clean - a school where the teachers are law enforcement.
“Portland is known as a place that attracts a lot of buyers. These men are involved in funding this sex trafficking culture. They’re funding pimps and traffickers,” said Multnomah County DA J.R. Ujifusa.
“For the longest time I thought it was OK, everybody does it. I found the girls through various websites,” said a man who asked to be called “David.”
“I don’t have a girlfriend or anything so I was just wanting somebody. I did it a few times before I got caught,” said “Mike.”
“I did it maybe 30 times before I got caught,” said “Mitch.”
David, Mike and Mitch are between 20 and 38 years old. They will spend all day in class, learning about STDs, the risk of prison time if they get caught again and their role in this vicious and violent industry. The men said hearing from former prostitute, Lexi, hit them the hardest.
“You think we’re out there because we enjoy it, we like it, you’re wrong. We don’t. We’re out there because we have to be,” said Lexi.
“Hearing about what happened to some of these girls, the torture, I mean, it’s unbelievable,” said Mitch.
“Just kind of blown away, blown away by what I saw today. At one point almost in tears,” said David.
The three men went on websites where girls barely into their teens are routinely sold to the highest bidder.
“Deep down I think I knew it wasn’t doing anything for her but …It’s sort of like playing a mind game with yourself. You convince yourself she wants it because that’s what’s appealing or whatever but you kind of know,” said Mike.
“Most women started when they were 10, 12, 14 years old and these pimps beat them with things like a belt. It’s a form of rape. She doesn’t want to do it but she has to,” said a police officer from the front of a class.
The men were all caught in Portland Police stings either out on NE 82nd or in various hotel rooms. They catch more than a hundred Johns a year that way.
“The moment I got caught, I was like, oh my god. I thought this would never happen. I am not somebody who gets handcuffed. I’m a good guy,” said David.
“For every arrest we make, there are multiple, multiple man that aren’t arrested ,” said Ujifusa. Despite that daunting task, Ujifusa said john school is a valuable weapon to combat this war.
“This class puts it in their face. It’s a non-traditional way to try to educate and prevent future crimes from happening,” Ujifusa added.
A national study showed 30% of men that take a john school class won’t reoffend.
“I don’t think you’re ever going to stop it, but the best you can do is educate people,” said David.
“Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately this time I was caught. I think it can be a starting point to get into a recovery program. It’s that serious. Sex addicts anonymous, some people just can’t stop,” said Mitch.
The Portland john school started in 2011. That class was the 15th, meaning about 200 men have gone through the program. The $1,000 fee that the attendees pay not only covers the costs of conducting the classes, but also subsidizes police vice operations and recovery programs for girls trying to get out of the sex trade.