Of the women who completed at least a month of a human-trafficking program in Franklin County, nearly three-fourths haven’t ended up back in court.
“We definitely feel it’s effective,” said Hannah Estabrook, coordinator of the Changing Actions to Change Habits (CATCH) program in Columbus. “For anyone who spends any amount of time here, there seems to be a benefit whether they complete the program or not.”
The program in Franklin County Municipal Court in Columbus is one of two human trafficking specialized dockets in adults courts in Ohio; the other is in Cleveland. Summit County Juvenile Court officials, who have received initial state approval for the first human trafficking program for juveniles in the state, recently traveled to Columbus to observe CATCH.
CATCH has had 54 participants this year. Since the program began in 2009, 24 out of 186 participants, or about 12.7 percent, graduated. Among those who were in the program for at least 30 days, though, 72 percent didn’t end up with new charges. Among the graduates, 83 percent have avoided a return to court, Estabrook said.
Most of the participants face soliciting charges before entering the program. Many also have drug charges.
Under state law, prostitution differs from human trafficking, Estabrook said. Prostitution is defined as engaging in sexual activity for hire; human trafficking involves recruiting or enticing another person, knowing that person will be compelled to engage in sexual activity for hire.
“It is not necessarily the violent version of the movie Taken,” Estabrook said. “It can be as simple as, ‘Here’s some free dope.’ The person gets hooked and he exploits that addiction. Down the road, he says, ‘You owe me, you know. I need you to solicit.’”
Emily Schott, who works for Rahab Ministries and coordinates the mentoring program for Summit County’s new juvenile human trafficking program, also sees a strong correlation between drugs and human trafficking among younger victims.
“Where there’s drugs, there’s human trafficking,” she said.
Becky Moreland, executive director of Rahab, said trafficking victims are forced to have sex with men they don’t choose. She said young boys are often paid to look for vulnerable girls and pretend to be their boyfriends.
The boys have sex with the girls, videotape it and then use this to blackmail the girls into doing their bidding.
“They do it because they don’t want to lose him,” Moreland said of the “boyfriend.”
“They feel loved by this person,” Schott added. “We don’t say, ‘They don’t love you.’ Loving them well breaks that mind frame.”
Margaret Scott, deputy chief assistant for the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office, said human trafficking victims often have warm feelings for their abusers, much like domestic violence victims.
“Getting them to understand that what is happening to them is wrong legally and morally is a huge hurdle,” she said.
As the Restore Court program continues, Scott is hoping participants in the program will help law enforcement identify the traffickers to tackle the source of the problem.
Scott also said Summit County’s judges may want to look into starting an adult human trafficking program like the one in Columbus.
Estabrook encourages more courts to consider starting human trafficking programs for adults or juveniles.
“When I think about this specialized docket, it’s abolitionist work,” she said. “We don’t want this type of slavery to exist in our community.”
At a recent talk about human trafficking, Akron Municipal Judge Katarina Cook said she supports starting a human-trafficking program for adults, but not all of the municipal judges favor this step. Cook thinks the program would be a natural next step for trafficking victims who have aged out of Restore Court.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.