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Now the diversion program is a nationwide model. The model has roots in Columbus, Ohio, where a judge decided to direct women toward rehabilitation instead of jail. Ten years ago, Judge Paul Herbert was sitting in a courtroom when he noticed a trend.
He was seeing lots of women who were abused and forced into sex work, but they were being treated like criminals. A Ray Of Hope For The Children Of Sex Workers "The sheriff brings the next defendant out on the wall chained up," Herbert says, "and it's a woman and she's all beat up, she's looking exactly like one of these victims of domestic violence except she's in handcuffs and a jail suit.
I look down at the file and it says prostitute. So he pitched the idea of a courtroom dedicated to recovery, not punishment. There are now seven of these specialized courts in Ohio alone. There are similar programs in Texas, Illinois, Tennessee and Louisiana, and Herbert has helped cities get the courts up and running. A decade ago, Judge Paul Herbert came up with the idea of a diversion program for human trafficking victims.
Participants get treatment for trauma and addiction, and they are eligible to get their records expunged. In exchange, they're subject to drug testing and must show up in court every week for two years. But this program is intense. Less than 1 in 4 of the women enrolled make it to graduation.
I can tell you I've had about maybe 15 this year," says Esther Flores. She runs a safe house for women in sex work and says CATCH is great for those who graduate but doesn't do enough for the women who don't. Some women drop out because they get jobs and don't need the assistance, but Flores says she has seen others end up back on the street.