16 women graduate from CATCH Court, a criminal justice program for victims of human trafficking
CATCH Court (creating autonomy through collaborative healing) is a specialized docket in the Franklin County Municipal Court for women in the system who are victims of human trafficking.
People gather to protest human trafficking. (Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)
Liyah Guilkey was able to leave prison to access CATCH Court, a specialized docket in the Franklin County Municipal Court for women in the system who are victims of human trafficking.
“Every person that wrote you off as no good, who viewed you as a commodity and treated you as if you were disposable, made a big freaking mistake,” said Gwen England, CATCH Court Program Leader as she introduced Guilkey. “This is your Julia Roberts’ Pretty Woman moment.”
Guilkey is one of 16 women who graduated from CATCH Court Friday at the Ohio Statehouse. CATCH Court, which was founded in 2009, stands for creating autonomy through collaborative healing. The prostitution charge is dropped if they successfully complete the two-year program.
Tears, encouraging words, hugs, cheers, smiles, music and hope filled the Statehouse during the graduation. Pomp and circumstance played as the 16 women walked into the atrium.
“I had been used,” Guilkey said. “I had been left for dead several times and I had been left behind. I didn’t love myself, these women who owe me absolutely nothing … the people who picked me up when I didn’t have the strength to stand for myself, I just want to say thank you.”
Vanessa Cooper, a 2012 CATCH Court graduate, spoke at Friday’s ceremony.
“It is not easy to get to this point, so the fact that 16 trudged through and made it here is a miracle,” she said.
For Hannah Estabrook, executive director of Sanctuary Night, CATCH Court graduation feels like Christmas morning.
“It’s one of the best days of the year,” she said.
CATCH Court is a criminal justice program and the women volunteer to come into the program. The women get connected to a probation officer, treatment and community partners. Judge Jodi Thomas, who presides over CATCH Court, also has weekly check-ins with the women in the program on Thursdays.
Friday was the 13th CATCH Court graduation and there have been between 75-80 women who have graduated from the program, Thomas said.
CATCH Court’s goal is not always graduation because there are a lot of barriers that prevent people from completing the program.
“It’s planting those seeds, it’s breaking barriers, it’s giving them these familiar faces they can trust and know they can come to when they are ready to go through the whole program,” Thomas said.
There are many reasons why someone chose to go through CATCH Court — they might be trying to get their children back, attempting to save a job or not want to go back to jail.
Human Trafficking in Ohio
The Human Trafficking Hotline has received 11,224 signals and identified 3,102 cases of human trafficking in Ohio since 2007. 6,013 victims were identified in those cases. In 2021, the hotline received 232 tips about sex trafficking, 23 about labor trafficking and 16 about sex and labor trafficking.
Ohio is a target for human trafficking for many reasons including its close proximity to the Canadian border, location to several major cities and high number of truck stops, according to Human Trafficking Front.
CATCH Court Graduates
Amanda Moore said CATCH Court made her the woman she is today.
“I came from a rough, rough path, we all have, but I was sitting in jail fighting a felony case,” she said.
She was initially in CATCH Court six years ago and opted out before coming back.
“This time I fought hard to stay and get to where I am today,” she said.
Every CATCH Court graduate had the opportunity to speak at the microphone if they wanted to as they received their framed diploma.
“CATCH taught me what the definition of love and support means and it helped me loved myself more than what I could love myself,” said CATCH Court graduate Dominique Bailey.
Toni Decarvalho didn’t initially want to do treatment and definitely didn’t want to do CATCH Court.
“I could not picture my life without using drugs,” she said. “I just didn’t have that within me and that’s something CATCH gave me. To the girls who are still going through it, it really is worth it.”
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