People convicted of buying sex have, since February, been eligible for a program to teach them about the harms of sex trafficking. But no one has been sentenced to it yet, in part due to lack of awareness.

Eighteen men arrested during a prostitution sting in Bismarck this spring would have been candidates for the program, but Assistant City Attorney Jason Hammes, who is prosecuting the cases, did not know it existed. 

The demand reduction program, commonly known as "John School," is a one-day course provided through the University of Mary, which can be used as a sentencing option for people convicted of soliciting prostitution. The men hear from a panel of survivors, about effects on the community and of the legal and health risks they face as offenders.

"The idea is there are a number of people who participate in purchasing commercial sex acts who don’t understand the broader impact and the broader risks of what they’re doing, and if they’re given that information they won’t re-offend," said Chad Litton, director of the criminal justice program at U-Mary, who is running the school. 

Hammes was not the only person in the dark about the program, which was approved by the Legislature in 2015 and ready-to-go in February 2017.

"It appears the municipal prosecutors and judges may not be aware of it," Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem wrote in a letter to city attorneys and municipal judges on July 25. 

Presentations had been given at conferences for district judges and state's attorneys, but not to the city-level staff, who often handle Class B misdemeanors, like the solicitation of prostitution.

The program will offer its first course in September and quarterly after that, said Litton, who added that he has heard from a few defense attorneys. 

He expects attendees to include people picked up in stings and arrested otherwise for buying sex. Courses can be offered in Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks, Minot and Watford City. 

Right now he and others are working on outreach.

Christina Sambor, who leads FUSE, a state anti-trafficking coalition, said that, in addition to the attorney general's letter, there will be more discussion of the program at meetings of prosecutors and judges and at multi-disciplinary human trafficking meetings. 

Hammes said the program sounded interesting, and he would consider it in future cases.

He said that in prosecuting prostitution, he wants to ensure people get more than a fine. As of now, that has meant suspended jail time, which stays on a person's record. But he said "john school" could be an option, too. 

"I'm not super against this coming off the record. It’s not something that I want to let go of without something extra than a fine," he said.

But, out of fairness to those who have already pleaded guilty, Hammes is not planning to use it in other plea offers connected to the May 11 and 12 sting, in which men responding to a online advertisement for prostitution posted by police were arrested at a local hotel.

So far, seven have pleaded guilty to the charge of solicitation of prostitution and received sentences with three to five days of suspended jail time and $250 to $300 in fines, according to court records. Six people are scheduled for trials, and five more have bench warrants. Two juveniles were also picked up, but Burleigh County prosecutors declined to say how they were handled. 

Hammes said he wanted to make equal plea offers to people who admitted guilt before and after he learned of the program, which cost $500. He is also concerned it would be burdensome on people who live out-of-state, which includes seven of the 18 adults picked up in the sting.

Men arrested during May prostitution sting in Bismarck

Kenneth Berg, 56, Lincoln

Albid Davila, 22, Pharia, Texas

Michael Davis, 32, Waggman, La.

Nicholas Doneen, 22, Alexander

Clayton Enno, 27, Bismarck

Marvin Faulhaber, 51, Bismarck

John Henley, 50, Convent, La.

Michael Keller, 42, Mandan

Jason Kusmenko, 42, Zap

Lisandro Lopez-Palomares, 31, Las Vegas

Lorenzo Martinez, 38, Bismarck

Thomas Reed, 55, Mesa, Ariz.

Paul Schaffner, 47, Mandan

Anthony Seegmiller, 33, Bemidji, Minn.

Rolando Tenorio Jr., 20, Bismarck

Tyler Trehus, 28, Mandan

James Wayman, 43, Winnie, Texas

James Wiese, 43, Bismarck

Reach Caroline Grueskin at 701-250-8225 or at caroline.grueskin@bismarcktribune.com

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