Disclaimer: The people whose arrests are depicted or described in this story are innocent until proven guilty.?
The men who buy prostitutes are called "Johns." It's a term widely used by law enforcement and was originally created to protect their identity.
In the movies, like Pretty Woman, the John is a good looking guy with a high paying job. He's also personable and respectful. His request is "just sex" and she's in control.
The girls who prostitute in New Hanover and Brunswick counties laugh at that description.
"Until I got into this business I never knew these things go on," Karly said shaking her head. "There are things I've seen and heard that I am scarred for life."
When the girls describe their clients the word "normal" is used a lot. They'll tell you to pick the guy you'd least expect to be doing it - and that's their client.
"Business men, pastors, men in suits and ties," Karly listed. "Men you wouldn't think a day in your life would do something like that."
Alyson lists doctors, lawyers and photographers among her clients. Alexa mentioned construction workers and chiropractors.
"I used to have a judge," Taylor said. "I went to Baltimore and I had an FBI agent. Doctors. I had a regular that was a lawyer."
"We have businessmen who frequently come to town who go to their hotel room, who power up their laptop, who order their dinner, order their food and then they order their prostitute," said Lindsey Roberson, attorney and former Assistant District Attorney. "Just like any other thing, because it's so readily available to them. That demand obviously drives the supply."
Nikki said some men have secret condos at the beach where they take their "girls" to play out their fetishes.
"I've had 70-year-old men, and 16-year-old boys, and everywhere in between," said Karly. "Age ain't nothing, they don't care."
Karly briefly talked about a call to a teenager whose mother was cooking in the kitchen and, after they finished, she climbed out the window and went on her way.
One of Alyson's most profitable venues was mobile home communities in poorer areas.
"You go to a house and there's 15 of them so you're guaranteed at least $50 a pop, $80 a pop for ten minutes," Alyson said. "[You] walk out the house with $300-$400."
Married men were mentioned by every woman we spoke to.
"A lot of times their wives aren't giving it to them or something is going on with their wives so they call an escort," Alexa said.
"That's where I get most of my clients - people on their lunch breaks cause they're married," Nikki said. "That's the best time for them to get out and be with somebody and undetected."
"That time is undocumented as far as 'home time' so they can do things outside of the norm in their work schedule where they are not required to be home," explained NHCSO Detective Evan Luther.
The lunch hour and right after work are the busy times in this industry. Monday through Friday provided plenty of business for the women while the late night weekend crowd usually only brought in party-goers. The girls added that right after church on Sundays is also a busy time.
"I hate men," Taylor grumbled. "I can't stand them, at all. 'Cause I see what husbands do and like, it's gross."
Listening to the audio from Operation "Saving Grace" in Brunswick County and hearing stories from the women, it seemed like the majority of clients were looking for more than "just sex."
"They want a sex act done that they can't get at home," said Louise Coggins, a licensed clinical social worker at Trinity Wellness Center. "They want something adventurous, something different, something dangerous, illegal, whatever. And those girls don't have to be anyone special to do that."
You may be surprised by some of the prostitutes answers when asked what they'd like to say to the Johns of the world. Taylor wished her clients had made an effort to get to know her and would express some level of caring. Several other comments eluded to a void of emotional intimacy between themselves and the men.
That may sound backwards. After all, isn't the point of paying for sex to avoid intimacy, prioritizing the physical? Yes. But their responses gave a glimpse into the part of every woman's innate nature to feel connected to others. Something that despite their "job," they still yearned for.
"[The Johns] didn't have to send flowers. They didn't have to be nice. They didn't have to remember anybody's birthday. They didn't have to feel guilty," said Louise. "They could just pay their money and anti-up."
A common justification for legalizing or condoning prostitution argues that the two parties are "consenting adults" and no one else is harmed by their trysts. Of course, that assumes that both parties live in a bubble without families, friends, parents, co-workers, spouses and significant others.
"To say that it's not harming anybody is the biggest lie that there ever was," said Louise.
Louise works with both prostitutes and Johns (and often, their spouses) in her counseling practice. It is not uncommon for an unexplainable STD to appear in a spouse. The rest of the story quickly unravels and they end up sitting on Louise's couch.
The destruction of a family is just the beginning. If caught buying or selling sex, the next thing to go is the job.
"You meet a lot of people that if they were to get caught, they'd lose their job," said Alexa. "I've met lawyers, bondsmen - they'll come bond you out but you gotta give them sex."
Of all the different professions named, bondsmen was a reoccurring theme. The women specified that it was not the majority, but a few in town who preferred to exchange sexual favors instead of cash for her freedom. Some women have tried changing the terms of the agreement once out of jail, only to find that particular bondsman driving her right back to the detention center.
When observing the dark parking lots of area motels at night and when talking with the women, you can't help but ask yourself if someone you know is out there too. But those who've seen both sides of the equation say someone who looks or acts like a "regular" guy has zero correlation with who participates. Much of our believes about Johns is shaped by TV and movies.
"There's something dysfunctional going on when a man says, 'I want to go out and have sex with a girl who I think is 15, but I'm not going to ask because then I can go do what I want to her and go home and not feel quite so guilty,'" said Cary Ramsay of A Safe Place.
It's surprising to see how calm some of the Johns were when getting arrested; others were smug. The reactions may be in part because they know the penalties for buying sex are trivial. Or perhaps it's because the stigma against the purchase is usually not as severe as that against the sale.
In North Carolina buying a prostitute is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor, or a "minor wrongdoing." Other Class 1 crimes include breaking into a coin machine or possession of drug paraphernalia.
"The choice we sort of have to make is, do we want to confront the supply and pull one piece of the supply off the street at a time?" asked Roberson. "Or do we want to make a bigger impact in our community and what's going on here if we confront demand?"
Make sure to tune in tomorrow night on WECT at 11 for a deeper look into the prostitution stings that took down these "John's" on Beyond The Life: Prostitution Sting!