A new start: Court program for sex trafficking victims graduates new class

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Women from the streets of Columbus who have been used, violated and discarded, are on a new path.

They are the new graduates of a Franklin County Court Program that specializes in second chances.

"Changing Actions to Change Habits" is the specialty court founded by Judge Paul Herbert in 2009, when he realized the defendants, the supposed criminals he was locking up repeatedly on solicitation charges, were actually victims.

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They were women who had been brutalized and broken for someone else's profit.

Instead of jail, CATCH offers two years of intensive probation, addiction treatment, and trauma-focused therapy.

"It's very hard driven, but it's worth it," said graduate Erin Taylor. "I just have so much gratitude to the CATCH Court program and all they've done for me in the last two years and for my family. They've gotten their daughter back. They've gotten a mother back, a friend back. And I'm just forever grateful for them."

Graduate Paula Legue says what she found at CATCH, was "Love. Support. Guidance. I found my worth. I know I'm worthy today. And I used to not be able to say that."

"I'm really proud of the graduates for their hard work," Herbert told those assembled Friday to celebrate the graduation.

"You deserve to be in this space. You deserve to be in this graduating class," said CATCH Court Coordinator Hannah Estabrook.

"I don't stand here as a victim, but a survivor," said graduate Rachel McGrath, to loud cheers. "We are all survivors."

Even amid their celebration, they stopped to remember the countless women who weren't there.

"The ones that have been found in oil bins in the Darby Creek. The ones who were murdered and left on the side of roads. The ones who were turned into sex slaves," said graduate Angela Vroman.

These women know that could have been them.

For a chance to be reunited with their children, to write a new chapter, for the chance at a future...

"I feel really really really grateful," said Legue. "I feel love."

Since CATCH Court began in 2009, 58 women have graduated the program.

The court says nationally, 80 percent of women arrested for prostitution are re-arrested.

Of women who participate in CATCH Court, that rate falls to 29 percent.

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