Shifting the Paradigm by Judge Paul Herbert

by Wendy Grace Evans
May 24, 2012

Image of Wendy Grace Evans

Judge Paul Herbert of Columbus, Ohio leads the Changing Actions to Change Habits (CATCH) program, which is a two-year program for women who have been involved in sex work or human trafficking. Instead of sending them to prison, the program allows the women to spend two years on probation and to enter an intensive rehabilitation program for substance use and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Judge Herbert shares some reflections on the CATCH program.

The Changing Actions to Change Habits (CATCH) program is two years in length, and while many women do not make it the whole way through, I can track them through the criminal databases. Data shows that of the 80 women who have been accepted into the program, 78 percent have not committed a new crime. The remaining 22 percent are women who relapsed and have committed crimes and are back in the system.

The other venture we are pursuing is an attempt to differentiate between prostitution and human trafficking. The more I see women come through my courtroom, the more I am convinced that many are human trafficking victims.

I have spoken to different people in search of a human trafficking assessment tool. I found one in Washington, D.C. with the Polaris Project, which is the leading national human trafficking research organization. It defines human trafficking as follows: whether by force, fraud, or coercion, a person submits to a commercial sex act if they are over the age of 18. If they are under the age of 18, the selling party must have sold them for sex in order for sex to fall under the guidelines of human trafficking.

Based on this definition, we assessed 20 women who are currently in the program, and 93 percent fell within the guidelines of being human trafficking victims.

This tool helps enormously because it gives me hard data, which can help me shift the culture and mindset of how people in Ohio and the country view prostitution. In Columbus alone, 1,500 women a year are arrested for prostitution. Based on the results of the initial Polaris assessment, this would mean that approximately 1,396 are actually trafficking cases. I cannot sit back and watch this happen. The recovery centers are full, and women are now waiting in jail cells.

I also had another epiphany, which is a belief that Ohio State University should become the first university to open a center on human trafficking. The center would provide research, education, publishing, treatment, and outreach. Some of the most prominent issues that these women face include Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from trauma, Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), substance use, mental illness, homelessness, and physical health problems (including vision and dental problems).

I am looking for an approach that keeps the women at the center of our attention as a community so they can heal, and so society understands they have been sold into this lifestyle of degradation—and it should be said that it is hardly a lifestyle. It is more of a death sentence.

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Category: HRC Insight