Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Judge’s Shared Experience Helps Heal Human Trafficking Survivors

Substance use issues are central to many – if not most – human trafficking victims. That struggle for sobriety is very familiar to Cleveland Municipal Judge Marilyn Cassidy.

As the founder of the state’s second human trafficking court, Judge Cassidy kept her battle with alcoholism hidden for years until she felt “it was time.” In long-term recovery since 2001, Judge Cassidy publicly opened up to dozens of participants at a drug court graduation in 2013, the same time she was laying the foundation for her human trafficking specialized docket, which started a year later.

“I understand that things happen to people. It doesn’t make you a bad person,” Judge Cassidy said.

Understanding the cerebral nature of substance use – not only from her personal experiences, but as a former registered nurse – Judge Cassidy knows how it can prevent court staff and treatment teams from finding co-occurring illnesses that consume a human trafficking survivor. According to the program’s clinician, all of the participants have been diagnosed with a mental disorder.

“You’ve got to get rid of that whole addiction phase first, where you don’t even know probably what the extent of [a] mental health problem may or may not be,” Judge Cassidy said.

Under her watch, approximately 180 victims have been identified in various solicitation, domestic violence, drug offense, and various misdemeanor cases. Of those, 60 have ended up on the special docket with 21 graduates. Currently, there are 20 women, or those who identify as women, in the program.

“Whether you’re in recovery or not, recovery principles are great rules to live by, and a lot of these women have no radar, no compass. They have nothing, other than what we give them,” Judge Cassidy said.

Since these women are isolated from society by their abusers, then due to incarceration, they have difficulties opening up emotionally, and physically. So, to create an environment of acceptance in the courtroom, Judge Cassidy starts each session by dancing, then walking around and hugging each participant.

By creating a warm and embracing culture, the court creates an avenue for these women to support and inspire each other. For those still mired in the haze of drugs and alcohol, it’s an opportunity to see what life can be like with a clearer experience.

“Really, we’re healing brains here. That’s what we’re doing,” Judge Cassidy said. “We hope our courtroom is something of a healing place.”