By Louise Davidson
On February 4 of this year, I was privileged to be part of a small group of Presbyterian women from Covenant Presbyterian Church in Columbus who took lunch to about 40 women appearing in CATCH (Change Attitudes to Change Habits) Court. The group included a member of the church's Peacemaking Committee, our associate pastor Katie Kinnison, and a young police officer who is a member of our congregation. We were allowed to stay and observe following lunch.
The women in CATCH Court have all been trafficked and arrested (not all for prostitution; some for other violations). In this court, each is given the opportunity to participate in a two-year program of recovery. The program offers trauma counseling, drug counseling, mentors, sponsors and opportunities for education.
Judge Paul Herbert’s courtroom is like no other. We were amazed. He knew each woman by name, and got out of his chair frequently to come down and talk with them. He checked with each one to see how they were, then he asked what was the highlight of their week. He celebrated with those who had moved on to a new level of the program, he made presentations and he gave hugs and lots of positive reinforcement. There were even gift bags for the women.
There was a tremendous variety of small things to celebrate—days of sobriety, for example. Some had been able to see and spend time with their children. One woman celebrated the many days since her liberation from her abuser, and the fact that she was going to have surgery to help her breathe more easily and recover from his beatings.
The women were amazingly open about their lives. One woman came from a program not in Columbus. She spoke of her panic attacks as she came back to the city, saying she was afraid she would see her trafficker. Police had been unable to locate him, so he had not been served with a protective order nor detained.
One young woman had skipped out on her program and done something to get her picked up again. She appeared in court and the judge talked with her to see if she wanted to try again. He affirmed her, and each woman there, as she spoke. One woman had written about her addiction, so Judge Herbert asked her to read her story to the young woman who had been picked up again. It was a story of recovery, reformation and redemption, and it moved all of us.
It was good to see these women taking charge of their lives and having the opportunity to do so. Upon successful completion of the program, survivors can apply to have their records expunged. Cincinnati and Dayton have both started similar programs.
About the author: Louise Davidson is former vice moderator for justice and peace on PW’s Churchwide Coordinating Team, a current member of the PC(USA)’s Advocacy Committee for Women's Concerns, and a member of the human trafficking task group working with the PC(USA)'s Advocacy Committee on Social Witness Policy.
Editor's note: Learn more about CATCH Court in this story by WBNS-10TV. This story, by the way, is an excellent look at the way one man’s view of prostitution changed when he began to think about what would motivate a woman “‘to take what’s most personally precious and sell it to vile strangers? . . . That’s when I learned the amazing statistics behind the truth,’” Judge Paul Herbert says.