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Human trafficking survivor says Akron court program saved her life

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Posted at 5:19 PM, Nov 16, 2021

AKRON, Ohio — Human trafficking happens here. In our cities, in our suburbs.

A judge in Akron wants to make that clear — and has made it his mission to get survivors on the right path. Through a specialized docket over the last two years, they’ve identified 30 to 40 women caught up in sex trafficking, and the ones who accept the help say it is life-changing.

That includes women like “Marie,” sex trafficked by a family member, tangled up in the streets as a teenager.

“I didn’t have money. I needed to pay for somewhere to stay, I needed to feed myself,” she said. “I wish I never did that, because the way it made me feel. It made me feel dirty and disgusting. But now I feel happy and clean.”

After two years, she was arrested during a sting by the Summit County Human Trafficking Task Force.

She went from a jail cell to Judge Ron Cable’s Akron courtroom, where it all changed.

“I feel like RISE was something that saved my life,” Marie said. “Because I’m not in the streets no more, I’m actually doing better.”

We first introduced you to Judge Cable and his RISE (Restore Individual Self-Empowerment) program when it began back in 2018.

“Sex trafficking is certainly a problem all over the country, but especially in Ohio,” he said.

The goal is to help those sex trafficking survivors caught up in the criminal justice system because of theft, prostitution, and drug-related charges, and keep them out of jail, off the streets, and get them the help they need — through a voluntary two-year program.

“We provide them with safe housing if needed,” Judge Cable said. “We also provide them with drug treatment, trauma therapy, which is very important, and help them work on their resume, get a job.”

There are 17 participants in the program right now — women like Marie , who is set to graduate soon after two years of hard work by everyone involved.

“I just need them to really try, you know? We don’t expect perfection,” Judge Cable said.

Michaela Yerse is the RISE court coordinator.

Her office is filled to the brim with food, clothes, bus passes, anything to help these women.

Her phone rings daily with calls and texts - the women needing her in one way or another to stay on track.

“That’s the crazy thing about it — it definitely doesn’t discriminate based on age or where you come from or what kind of family you have,” Yerse said. “Our youngest participant is in their 20s to our oldest in their 60s.”

Even crazier than that is this courtroom — what was once the source of fear for these women — has now become their refuge, their safe place from the streets.

“So that’s why I’m thankful this program was here when it was because now I can move on with life and forget about the past and be somebody new and somebody better,” Marie said.

Marie said once she graduates the RISE program in the coming months, she wants to go back and get her GED, then pursue a career in music and arts.