COLUMBUS, Ohio — The atrium at the Ohio Statehouse was filled with hugs, tears and cheers on Thursday morning.
Twelve women graduated from CATCH Court, a program that allows women who have been victims of human trafficking to break the cycle and start fresh.
“I can’t believe I’m standing up here today,” said Sharon Frazier while accepting her diploma. “It’s very emotional.”
And the jury to graduation was certainly an emotional one for many of the graduates. They had faced the darkest of times before getting this chance to shine.
“My life was a mess – drinking every day, crying, no family, alone, lost,” said graduate Tamara Robinson. “It’s a place I never want to be again.”
She said her journey through CATCH court involved a lot of hard work and trust in those wanting to help her. She likened the process to Alcoholics Anonymous, suggesting the first step is surrendering and admitting to the need for help.
“It starts a new chapter,” Robinson said of graduation. “It’s the end of a lot of long work, but the beginning to the next chapter of a new beginning. It’s just amazing. It showed me what I’m capable of doing if I don’t give up, and it’s opened a lot of doors, and it motivates me to continue moving forward.”
The women were celebrated by Judge Jodi Thomas, who is still new in the role, taking over from the founder, Judge Paul Herbert, last year. Many of the new graduates are the first to have completed the program only under Judge Thomas.
“It’s absolutely emotional for me because I have seen these women in their darkest days, and then to see them today celebrating their recovery, their family, their love for themselves, it truly is what gives me passion to keep doing this work,” Judge Thomas said.
And that work clearly made an impact on more than just the graduates. Many of the family and friends who attended the ceremony were emotional, too.
“I know what kind of life Sharon was leading,” said Sharon Dyer, the grandmother of Frazier. “I didn’t know how to help her. But she got into CATCH Court, and her life changed completely.”
Frazier said she is a survivor of human trafficking, adding it was a blessing to be alive and where she is today. She says she’s now ready to put the focus on herself and her future. Her grandmother was so happy, she was brought to tears.
“I’m so proud of her, and I know she’s going to be all right,” Dyer said. “I don’t have to die and worry about her now because I know she’s in the hands of God, and she’s going to do good.”