Local law enforcement in Massachusetts has launched a multi-agency effort to crack down on human trafficking in Springfield with the emphasis on reducing demand for sexual exploitation.
Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni said the new initiative entails strict enforcement of the law coupled with education by way of a so-called “John’s School”— a court-ordered class for men who have been arrested for purchasing sex.
"Prostitution and human trafficking is a significant issue and we are very proud to announce this multi-faceted approach," said Gulluni.
Law enforcement increasingly is focused on treating prostitutes as victims with an emphasis on providing substance abuse and mental health treatment, while pursuing more aggressively people who profit from prostitution and those who choose to solicit.
" We are taking a very strong stance on this," declared Gulluni. "You are likely to get caught ( if you solicit sex for money in Springfield), you are likely to get outed and the punishment is going to involve a big commitment. So, think twice and don't do it."
Gulluni said the effort will focus initially in Springfield’s South End neighborhood where residents and business owners through a community policing program identified prostitution as a persistent problem.
" This is an issue to help the women, but also make sure the South End and neighborhoods beyond are rid of human trafficking and Johns looking for sex," Gulluni said in an interview.
Men arrested for soliciting sex in Springfield could end up in the CARD (Community Approach to Reduce Demand) program, operated by Spectrum Health Systems. Since it was introduced by the Worcester Police Department in 2015, 115 men have completed the class and none have been arrested again for soliciting sex, according to program director Maureen Casey.
" I think it is very remarkable, but obviously everybody involved in the program is doing their job and doing it well," said Casey.
The classes include presentations about sexually transmitted diseases, the impact prostitution has on neighborhoods and stories from survivors of sexual exploitation.
Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi said the classes will be held at the jail in Ludlow.
" We want people to see where they will be residing if they continue with this behavior," Cocchi said "I think it is important the program have this bite to it as well."
As another part of the initiative to deter people from soliciting to purchase sex, Mayor Domenic Sarno said the city will publicize arrests on social media and in the local newspaper.
" When you are caught as a John you are going to be publicized, and that means your name and your photograph," said Sarno. "This is your one warning."
Springfield police said they have stepped up enforcement against people soliciting for sex.