Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Ten Years After Inception, Human Trafficking Court Continues to Reform Lives

On a weekly basis, one docket inside Franklin County Municipal Court is in session where the people in attendance aren’t seated for hearings or rulings.

They’re largely there just to talk.

The structure is the evolution of a decade’s work by Judge Paul Herbert and his staff to build a safe haven for those victimized by one of the most heinous crimes: human trafficking.

“We have a restorative court system with a trauma-competent judge and staff,” said Judge Herbert. “Which means, really, I’m looking at someone instead of the old way [of saying], ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I’m really looking at them now trying to [say], ‘I wonder what happened to you.’”

The judge came up with Ohio’s first human trafficking court – Changing Actions that Change Habits (CATCH) – in 2009 after he sensed something wasn’t right in his courtroom.

“One day, women were coming through arraignment court all beat up, and I looked down at the file and it said ‘prostitute,’ and they looked more like a domestic violence victim,” he said.

After years of trauma and exploitation, those who appear inside courtroom 12C arrive there with criminal records carrying varying charges. All of the survivors have little control over their lives as they’re forced to sell their bodies for someone else’s profit or to satiate a substance addiction.

“Being new in recovery, and pregnant, and having a child, was very difficult to juggle, and there have been several times that I wanted to give up,” said Cheyenne, a CATCH Court participant.

The program is a two-year track that involves intensive probation, addiction treatment, and trauma-focused therapy. Those who graduate – to date there have been 58 people – get a clean slate with the related charges erased from their record.

“You’re asking them to change a lot and we’re very demanding about that,” said Judge Herbert. “As you see them over time start to trust the process, and trust the staff, and eventually trust me, I don’t think there’s been anything more rewarding in my whole career.”

The survivors are proving the program works. The national average of recidivism – or re-offending in these kinds of cases – is 80 percent. CATCH Court’s rate is at 29 percent.

“I really thought that my record would really hold me back from being able to hold a stable job and be stable out in the community, but I see other women doing it, and that gives me the motivation that I can do it,” said Cheyenne.