Delicate Dynamic of Gender in Human Trafficking Courts
By Csaba Sukosd | February 4, 2020
As Human Trafficking Awareness Month recently concluded, victims spent January telling stories about how their struggles began. For those who wound up in the judicial system, which in Ohio is almost entirely women, they have a haunting history of abuse, typically at the hands of men.
"No little girl said, 'I want to grow up and be a prostitute.' It took pain, hurt, and words that changed these little girls into believing they were nothing," said Angel Dague, a human trafficking survivor who provides direct support to victims through RAHAB Ministries, a nonprofit organization.
Almost all of the participants in the state's certified human trafficking courts have been girls or women. In nearly all of those cases, they were exploited by men.
In many instances, victims' vulnerabilities begin as children. Many of those girls were exposed to traffickers as they escaped prior issues, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, and abandonment. With U.S. Department of State estimates stating that only 0.4% of victims are identified, those exploited are typically enslaved for years, if not decades.
Given the resulting trauma, and the length captives are subjected to it, a gender disconnect develops with men. Such dynamics can play out if someone being trafficked ends up in court.
"It's a little easier to trust other women," said Cleveland Municipal Judge Marilyn Cassidy, who started the state's second human trafficking court in 2014. "Many of our women need to learn how to relate to men, other than in a sexual way."
The insecurity about how to handle the opposite sex can go both ways. Akron Municipal Judge Ron Cable deals with victims arrested for offenses like solicitation, drug possession, and theft in his Restore Individual Self-Empowerment program. As part of an intensive, two-year probation to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use, and mental health issues directly tied to their enslavement and torture, accountability is necessary. But it comes with particular challenges when a woman is being punished - again - by a man.
"Sometimes that can be very difficult when to sanction someone, and when to give them a little bit more time, because our women here have been through so much trauma," Judge Cable said.
Fortunately for survivors, with time comes more comfort and clarity, largely due to sobriety and counseling. Within a holistic rehabilitation program, that bridge to an intergender reconnection can come from anywhere, like a judge, attorney, clinician, or police officer.
"It's important for them to experience the support of a man, who's not looking for something in return," said Summit County Juvenile Judge Linda Teodosio, who runs Restore Court, the state's only certified human trafficking court for minors.
Participants who progress in recovery sense growth. On top of personal successes, they see how accomplished the individuals are in their network of support, such as the judges, court staff, and treatment teams. It helps develop aspirations survivors haven't felt since a vicious cycle of violation began as children.
"We're opening up the gates of hope for them that they can see that, 'Just because I'm a woman, that doesn't mean I can't achieve a high goal that I have for myself,'" Judge Teodosio said.