Human Trafficking Court Graduates Celebrate New Beginning
By Csaba Sukosd | September 30, 2021
On a picturesque September day at the Ohio Statehouse, seven women experienced their brightest day in years.
Hundreds of people gathered to recognize the latest graduates from Franklin County Municipal Court's CATCH Court, the state's first human-trafficking specialized docket.
"You are some of the most powerful, capable, resilient, beautiful women I've ever had the privilege of knowing," said Hannah Estabrook, a former CATCH Court coordinator who now runs a drop-in center for women still caught in the cycle of exploitation.
Created in 2009, CATCH Court, which is short for Changing Actions That Change Habits, now has 76 survivors who have completed the treatment program aimed at recovery for trauma, mental health, and substance use issues.
"Once I was able to forgive myself and put aside that guilt and shame that I felt over that relapse, that was when I truly started to live," said Tonya Cortright, a 2021 graduate.
Perseverance is a necessary trait among the participants, many of whom attempt to complete the program multiple times.
A few years earlier, Cortright completed two years of probation as a requisite to CATCH Court, only to have a setback ahead of graduation.
Another honoree, Allison Deehr, took five years to complete from start to finish.
"It took [the court] believing in me to make it where I am today," Deehr said. "Now, I know I can do anything I set my mind to."
To better contextualize the obstacles CATCH Court participants must overcome, 93% are mothers who are victims of sexual or intimate partner violence, and 83% of entrants have already been referred for mental health services.
The overwhelming majority also come from impoverished upbringings and don't have a high school diploma or GED.
A few graduates shared specifics of their struggles for the audience before accepting their diplomas from presiding Judge Jodi Thomas. Some of those thoughts detailed the darkest of moments.
"I died, and I looked at my mom, and I wondered why she even saved me, but she did," said graduate Natasha Cooper. "I'm forever grateful to [her] for giving me the love that I needed."
The sense of gratitude was universal amid all the speeches as each woman also shared their appreciation for Judge Thomas and her team. Among those thanked was the program's founder and guide for 11 years, retired Judge Paul Herbert, who attended the graduation.
"Your vision for CATCH Court gave me a future," said graduate Jewels Edwards. "Thank you so much."
For these women, their time with the court is over. Now, they can embrace a new beginning. In many instances, it's an opportunity to start over with loved ones to repair relationships.
"I get to fly out to Maine after graduation to see my family and go home for the first time in 10-and-a-half years," said graduate Brooke Pinkham.