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AKRON, Ohio - Oftentimes, the first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one.
“Sex trafficking is certainly a problem all over the country, especially in the state of Ohio,” Judge Ron Cable of the Akron Municipal Court said.
That’s why he is working to create a specialized docket for victims of human and sex trafficking — victims that he often sees in his courtroom on charges of domestic violence, theft and drugs.
“It’s a very unique situation where you have someone that is a criminal defendant, and at the same time, they’re a victim,” Cable said.
Specialized dockets are courts that are dedicated to specific types of offenses or offenders. They use a combination of different techniques for holding offenders accountable while also addressing the underlying causes of their behavior.
“Women that have been charged with theft, and you dig a little deeper and you realize this person may be stealing for the benefit of someone else, and they’re also selling their own body for the benefit of someone else,” Cable said.
The specialized docket will involve a two-year program with wraparound services including treatment for victims, employment opportunities, mentoring and mental health services to deal with the trauma.
“Sometimes people are just ready for a change, and I think it’s our obligation to at least offer them that opportunity,” Cable said.
If they complete the program, they could have the crimes they committed while being trafficked expunged from their record. If they don’t, they could face jail time.
“They’ll be held accountable,” Cable said. “It’s not like we’re just giving them some benefits and not requiring them to follow through.”
Cable said the Akron Municipal Court’s specialized human trafficking docket should be up and running by October.
At the Summit County Juvenile Court, a specialized docket called “Restore Court” has been in place for five years under Judge Linda Tucci Teodosio. According to the court, since 2013 when the program began, 65 children have been identified as trafficked and 79 children have been identified as being at high risk of being trafficked.
“You will not find a young person that comes through Restore Court successful or unsuccessful that wouldn’t tell you that the things that we do here, the things we do for them are because we care about them and we want them to have a better life,” Teodosio said.
She said her team spends a lot of time looking at red flags, screening tools and training staff to try to be more aware and recognize when kids are being trafficked. Once the children are identified, they are paired with a treatment team that consists of a probation officer, a case manager and various community service agencies.
Restore Court is the only juvenile court in the state that is certified by the Ohio Supreme Court.