Judge Marilyn B. Cassidy, a former nurse and attorney who for many years litigated on behalf of the elderly — “Don’t mess with my old people,” she advised Scene — has been spearheading the efforts. She’s been mulling over something like this for a few years, since she attended a domestic violence continuing education program and then saw the efforts and early success of programs like the CATCH Court in Columbus (Change Action to Change Habits). Cassidy said that applications for grant funding have already been shipped off.
For now, the most immediate short term objective is the education of judges and attorneys. Special presentations will likely be held in late August or September with contributions from The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center and the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking. Cassidy said she suspects a representative from law enforcement will also be a part of that program.
“We want to put together an array of support,” Cassidy said.
Right now, prostitutes come through her court after spending several days in jail, and she’ll generally grant them time served, put them on probation, and recommend them for substance abuse assessment.
“Nine times out of ten — actually more like 10 times out of 10 and the rest are lying — there’s a substance abuse problem,” said Cassidy.
But Cassidy, along with Karen Walsh at the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking, understand that substance abuse is only one problem in a vast and complex network of problems affecting victims of trafficking, another of which is that victims often don’t even recognize themselves as victims.
“They might say, ‘Oh this is my boyfriend,’ or ‘he’s the only one who ever told me I was pretty,” said Walsh in a phone interview with Scene. She also stressed that traffickers’ manipulation tactics have evolved roughly at the pace of technology. “They lure them in. They establish trust.”
“And for so many of these people, we’ve kind of dismissed them as prostitutes,” Walsh continued. “But the average age that young people are lured into prostitution is 12-14. These kids grow up and then all of a sudden they’re 20 or 22 and this has been their life. The trauma keeps them from getting back into school and into a different career path. So who do we jail? It’s the kids who we didn’t recognize as kids early on.”
That’s one reason why a special docket is so important.
Under the new arrangement, Cassidy and a treatment team will put together plans for victims which could potentially include: shelter, trauma counseling, substance abuse treatment and other services. And with the aid of the prosecutor’s office and law enforcement, Cassidy hopes that this might eventually help target traffickers themselves.
“Maybe we can save a few lives,” the judge said.