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Work Begins on North Dakota "John School"

People who get caught paying for sex in North Dakota could soon end up in john school. (iStockphoto)
People who get caught paying for sex in North Dakota could soon end up in john school. (iStockphoto)
January 4, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. - January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month and there's a move in North Dakota to curb one major cause of the problem. The state's new so-called "john school" law went into effect on January 1.

Democratic state Sen. Mac Schneider (D-Grand Forks) sponsored the bipartisan bill, which he says has several goals. One is to avoid re-victimizing the victims, which are many times women and children. Schneider says the other point is to help "johns," or the people who pay for sex, understand the scope of their role in the crime.

"This is an inherently exploitative business, it is not simply a commercial transaction," says Schneider. "That's what we're seeking to do here in North Dakota, is go after the 'demand side' of the equation."

North Dakota's recent oil boom has brought an influx of working men to areas like the Bakken oil fields. Some state law enforcement agencies have reported an uptick in human trafficking in those areas, where the ratio of men to women can skew heavily male.

The new sex offender education program could take several months to launch. Christina Sambor, coordinator for a group known as a Force to End Human Sexual Exploitation, or FUSE. Sambor says she's working with the state's Human Trafficking Commission to create a curriculum for the school.

"There isn't a way to participate in this kind of behavior that doesn't promote really horrible things happening to other people," says Sambor. "There's lots of different organizations that have done work and researched how best to communicate that, and we'll certainly be looking at different models."

The "john school" law is just one of several state reforms passed last year aimed at curbing human trafficking in North Dakota. Other changes include ramping up the fines and punishments for people caught paying for sex.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - ND