The Canal Winchester Times

Free to Live Gala

Judge to discuss effort to free women from prostitution

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One-third of prostitutes enter the profession before age 15. About 62 percent are first sold for sex before their 18th birthday.

Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Paul Herbert can easily recite statistics on many of the women that pass through his courtroom each year.

"When I started out, I always thought of prostitution as the oldest profession," said Herbert, a Dublin resident.

But he said seeing a prostitution defendant in the courtroom that looked to him like a domestic violence victim changed his thinking.

In 2009, Herbert started "CATCH" Court -- Changing Actions to Change Habits -- and started treating prostitutes as victims of human trafficking.

Herbert will talk about his journey and program at the Free to Live Gala at 6:30 p.m. May 16 at the Country Club at Muirfield Village.

The fundraiser, organized by Cypress Church Dublin, which holds weekly services at Dublin Coffman High School, will benefit CATCH Court and the Salvation Army's Central Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition.

The evening's aim is to raise awareness about human trafficking, said Dale George, Cypress Dublin Campus pastor.

"We wanted to bring more awareness to Dublin because people think it's just in one area of town or one socioeconomic group," George said. "We want to do meaningful outreach and find out, how does it come to Dublin?"

Herbert, who has seen women go from prostitution to college or gainful employment with the help of CATCH Court, is just the man for the job.

"These women and girls are being taken and taken advantage of," Herbert said, noting sexual abuse or just bad behavior can lead to young girls looking for someone to treat them with kindness.

"The girls are just looking for a caring adult in their life," Herbert said.

After a girl is recruited into prostitution, she is groomed and complimented. She runs away and is then turned dependent through drugs or pregnancy, he said.

"(The traffickers) feed pain and trauma with drugs," Herbert said. "They say, 'Everything you have is because of me.' They isolate the girls."

And, finally, the girls are sold for sex.

The problem isn't limited to Columbus.

"These girls are doing it in Dublin," Herbert said. "They're from good homes. No one wants to say it's a problem in our community."

But it is a problem, and Herbert has had women from central Ohio suburbs, including Dublin, go through CATCH Court.

The two-year program is offered instead of jail time, but it's not easy.

The women must follow strict rules, attend weekly meetings, stay away from certain areas of town and certain people. They also get counseling and treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.

"We get to the girls and make them feel like they're something more," Herbert said.

The graduation rate for CATCH Court is low; about 10 percent of women graduate from the two-year program.

But the program does help cut down on recidivism.

"After six months in CATCH Court, 72 percent of women never recidivate," Herbert said.

Tickets to the Free to Live Gala are $49 each or $90 for a couple and include dinner, dessert and musical performances.

For more information about the Free to Live Gala or to purchase tickets, look online at cypresschurch.tv/#/events/free-to-live-gala.

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