From Defendant to Survivor: How Courts are Responding to Human Trafficking

I didn’t think I would ever see
this they come, ever. And it was one of my worst fears, getting a call about her
and I’m very very happy for her. I’m happy. I see a progression to the woman she should be, instead of like a lot of people that fail. She’s smart, she’s very beautiful. It’s a good day, it’s a great day. Off camera: I bet you’re proud of her. Son: Very proud. Aunt: She’s rejoined the family. Son: Very much so. Daughter: For sure. We often admire
the beauty of the butterfly but don’t recognize the path that it had to go
through to get to that beauty, so I want to acknowledge the beauty of this
butterfly and the path that she had to take to get here today. I don’t know if you’re familiar with our nickname. It’s called The Hub City
because Compton is the center of everything. From here is easy to get just
about anywhere in LA County. And here we go. We’re right coming up on the track. Well this is two o’clock in the
afternoon, and you can see there’s still, you know, activity. They’re
girls out here working right now and I’m certain somewhere there
is a pimp watching them. Anytime I would get arrested I was the criminal not the person that was making me go out or the person that was collecting my
money or even the john that was picking me up. Sick stuff that I experienced out
there like whether it was you know getting hit upside my head or sleeping
in my urine or not eating because I didn’t make my quota I didn’t make the
money that he asked me to make right like this angry kid this kid that at 11
12 13 14 15 I felt it was my choice to be out there. I believed that. Yes? All right, so listen, congratulations
on having completed the program. Your case is going to be dismissed and sealed
six months from today if you stay out of trouble and lead a law-abiding life. It’s
certainly our intention to try to resolve all the cases here with non-criminal dispositions wherever possible. So I wish you the best of luck, all right?
I think before these courts existed there was a very limited understanding
of prostitution and what that entailed. Where you have prostitution arrests, you
are going to find individuals who have been trafficked. Under these
circumstances it is inherently unfair to deal with them as just criminal
offenders or criminal defendants. Judge: So you’ve been at Crittenton for about three weeks now? Respondent: Yeah. Judge: What do you think? Respondent: It’s too big. Judge: Yeah. How many girls are there now? Probably
about 50 or 60? Yeah okay. When looking at the commercially sexually exploited
girls they have been the victims of multiple traumas. They have been
victimized often by their families, by being abused or neglected as young
children. They have been abused by exploiters who have specifically sold
them on the street. These are not new cases. These are cases have always been in the system. We’re just now being able to recognize them and identify them. Alright so. For those of you who
are new to Catch Court, we celebrate certain milestones in a person’s journey.
Melissa how many days do you have free now? The way prostitution cases were
handled here in Columbus Ohio I was probably a lot like oh it is across the
country you give her a jail sentence she gets back out and she gets arrested
again she comes back in jail times is jail jail jail jail no solution to the
problem catch Court is a 2-year specialized
docket certified by the Supreme Court of Ohio to serve victims of human
trafficking and prostitution a woman can be on probation instead of doing jail
time and and get actual treatment and be restored to the community we meet once a week on Fridays and
before the cases are called each of the cases is referred to a
different service provider based on demographics those who are transgender
for example will be referred to organizations or agencies that deal with
the transgender community and so on what we try to do is really to be
linguistically and culturally sensitive in terms of being able to provide
services that will meet the needs of our different populations. That makes an
incredible difference in terms of people being engaged in the services, people
coming back to these organizations even after they have fulfilled their mandates,
and also in terms of feeling comfortable enough to disclose their trafficking
history. Normally the judge and the ADA determine the number of sessions. If it’s
somebody’s first arrest, it’s usually five sessions. If it’s someone’s second
or third arrest, it goes up slightly from there, perhaps six or seven sessions. Our
services include individual therapy, group counseling, case management and
advocacy. We’re very realistic and thinking that, okay, well that person
unless they are ready to leave their their exploiter, for example, is not going
to do it in five sessions right? If the most we can do under these circumstances
is connect that individual right to a service provider, to a telephone number
that they can call or knowing that they have certain resources available to them
at a future date when and if they are ready you know to leave the life or to
leave their pimp then we are accomplishing you know something
important. At eleven years old I didn’t identify the
victim I didn’t understand that I was a victim and by the time I turned 15, after
being in probably about already ten different group homes and foster homes
and facilities, institutions I guess you can say, I was introduced to this thing
called CSEC, that stands for commercially sexually exploited children, and after
that I did a group and was becoming aware of my circumstances that, you
know, I was I was a victim. What we find is that about 80% of our kids have a
documented child welfare background meaning that their family has been
involved in the dependency system or some sort of child welfare intervention
at some point in the child’s life. I have the opportunity to decide whether I
think this child will be better served by child welfare or by probation. We’ll
continue to see her regularly regardless of which agency is what we refer to as
the ‘lead agency.’ Many of these youth are in need of drug treatment programs and
because of the traumatic issues the youth are also in need of mental health
services as well. We don’t believe that they should be punished for what
happened to them because detention is only temporary. It doesn’t fix anything.
It can actually set a kid back. We have counseling teams that go into the home
two or three times a week to just try to mend the relationship between the child
and the parents because that is usually what led to them being out on the street
and possibly in the life. Learning to engage with my clients and talking to
them in a trauma-informed manner was probably the most difficult part of my
training because quite frankly no one addressed that in in law school.
That’s not one of the subjects on the bar exam.
Once we found that out and we started treating the trauma at the same time as
the drugs it’s like a miracle. Our success rate went from about 20% staying
and 80% running back to the trafficker. Once we dealt with that trauma, it was
about 80% people staying in 20% running. If you’re gonna do a human
trafficking port you have to address the trauma. We’ve come to realize that human
trafficking situations can include a variety of charges. A woman
might be told by her trafficker you know I need you to go steal something from
this store or I need you to go cash this bad check or you know I need you to
carry my dope for me–you know these kinds of things.
The typical catch court participant really has hit rock bottom. She is
incarcerated. She is suffering from unaddressed mental health issues and
trauma. She has a substance use issue or an addiction to a substance of some kind.
When we go into the jail to assess for clinical eligibility, we use an adult
diagnostic assessment. We have adapted it a little bit and added a few questions
sort of about how someone got involved with soliciting. We also have added the
ACE test which stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences, which is an
evidence-based kind of tool to gauge someone’s history of trauma. When a
catch participant is about halfway through the program we then sit down
with them and do a full human trafficking assessment and that can take
two to three hours and that is an assessment that’s been adapted by
several that are out. There the reason we wait a year is because it’s such heavy
information and often I think women are not really ready to share and to process
and frankly I just haven’t earned their trust yet.
What made me think about you know choosing CATCH Court is because my last
time I got raped, pistol whipped. I really thought he was going to really kill me. CHAT House is a residential treatment
program for trauma survivors, human trafficking victims that are dealing
with addiction problems and that are in the CATCH Court program. Every Friday at
nine o’clock the ladies all get in the van and we go to CATCH Court. You guys who are not graduating get to ask the very tough
questions of the graduate that you’ve always been wanting to ask. Freedom a la
Carte is our partner and they are a nonprofit organization that does
catering and food services and they hire our women and they work with them on
budgeting and they work with them on life skills and they work with them on
you know how do I get a job beyond Freedom? What does a resume look like? How do I present myself? How do I interview? For a lot of our ladies they either have
a lot of misdemeanors, felonies, a really big gap in their employment history and
some of them are so young you know they get into this so young that they don’t
have any work history. When I started here at Freedom a la Carte, I knew nothing about catering so everything I know now I I’ve learned from Freedom a la Carte. [Low voice: I didn’t like the way they were addressing issues and stuff cuz
they would say ‘Well, we can just show up…’] We usually have a meeting once a week.
It’s called the MDT meeting, the Multi-Disciplinary Team. It’s kind of like
a collaboration of all the partners that work on any given case. Part of that team
is Department of Children and Family Services. We also have Probation
we have Department of Mental Health. We also have Department of Education, a
district attorney, a public defender, their advocate. We kind of want to bring
all that information together so we can make the best decision.
“It’s especially refreshing for me coming from a mental health perspective that
everyone already gets it, gets you know the underlying trauma, what’s going on
with these girls. You don’t have to sit here and try to convince them that ok
you know there’s this behavior and you know they’re disruptive and there are
these bad kids.” If a kid’s not going to therapy or something instead of her just
not being compliant with going to therapy like try, to figure out the root
reason, like why she going to therapy? Is it the therapist? Is it the
atmosphere? The success of this population varies
greatly and we talk about how it kind of changes every day. Success for one
child might be staying in placement for more than three days and success for
another child might be graduating high school.
We tend in the legal system to often be focused on their deficiencies and their
delinquencies and not on their successes so it is really important to kind of
change the whole perspective on how you’re looking at the kids. One of the
things that we use to measure success as well is the number of times that kids
will reach out to us, not necessarily to tell us where they
were or what was happening but just to say ‘hey I’m safe’ and so to us that was a
huge success-measure because that meant to us we had done a good job of building
that relationship, building that rapport and that at least they knew that there
was somebody that they could reach out to if they were in crisis. In New York State there is a statute
that allows trafficking survivors to vacate prostitution related offenses
that occur as a result of someone’s trafficking so we work with clients that
are eligible for that remedy, preparing motions for them to vacate their
criminal records. Right now under California law I have the ability to
clear all charges except for serious or violent felonies, so when I finish cases
for many of these kids I’m able to wipe their records clean which really helps
as far as getting them into adulthood with a clean record. I’m very proud of
you you’ve done a really good job and so I hope you’re proud of yourself. I’m very proud of myself. Okay
good i Kara is is doing quite well at home. She’s finished her program at
Sierra Sage. She’s been home now for a little over a month and doing well and
my understanding is we’re ready to take her off probation today. Ikay if I
give you a hug? All right. I have a cupcake too for you if you’d like. We
started with the other court and they were all gung-ho to lock her up with
criminals and you know punishment was in order. There was just a huge difference
when I got the referral to STAR Court. when I came to STAR Court, Judge
Pratt she understood. Judge Pratt court-ordered so that I could get my
tattoos lasered off and they’ve been getting lasered off. It’s just
not me anymore. I don’t think I would have Kara back today if it was not for this
program. The work that I do now, a little bit of mentoring here and
there, but mostly like interaction I guess with my survivor sisters, the
relationships that I have with them. Most of them have went through STAR Court and it changed your life. If they have spent any time with our court, sixty-two percent
have not been re-arrested yet in eight years. That’s a big number
so graduation is probably like the most exciting part of this job. These women
work really hard for two years Today’s the day, guys. Yeah! Rather than just throwing these people in jail for these nonviolent crime where nothing is changing, why not try a new
program that’s actually changing lives changing behaviors and making these
young women productive members of our society? It makes all the sense in the world to me. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the
seventh annual CATCH Court graduation. There’s one word that I would assign the
class of 2017 and that is the word resilient. The women that you’re going to
see today are victims of unspeakable traumas. They are still suffering from
post-traumatic stress syndrome and still bear the scars of violence. However,
against all odds they have survived. Sherri is not who she is today because
she was given a handout. She has worked for every inch of her success that she
has and I honor that hard work today. Ladies and gentlemen, Sherri! Okay so I just want to say I don’t look
at this at the end I look at this as a new beginning of a wonderful journey I
just want to say thank you to catch Court for loving me to our pillar to
love myself and for believing in me when nobody else would I love you guys always these are my mug shots with all within
the same here look at you here Wow just make it Oh

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