January 20, 2020
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Lawyers representing human trafficking victims want a single federal judge to oversee multiple lawsuits alleging that major hotel chains have ignored human trafficking taking place on their premises.
Attorneys have asked a federal panel to consolidate at least 21 such lawsuits pending in 11 states into a single case in federal court in Columbus, arguing that the lawsuits contain the same basic allegations.
“Human traffickers have capitalized on the hospitality industry’s refusal to adopt and implement industry-wide standards and anti-trafficking policies and procedures, including, but not limited to, training hotel staff on how to identify obvious and well-known signs of sex trafficking,” according to a court filing earlier this month seeking to consolidate the cases.
In Columbus, a woman who was trafficked for months has sued three hotel chains, alleging they knew she was being forced to work as a prostitute in hotel rooms for days on end — forced to serve up to 10 johns a day — but hotel employees didn’t do anything.
The lawsuit says hotel staff overlooked easily observed signs of trafficking, including trash cans full of condoms, payment for rooms in cash, and refusal of housekeeping services.
“Despite her desperate pleas and screams for help, after being beaten or choked at the Defendants’ hotel properties, the hotel staff ignored her and did nothing to prevent the ongoing and obvious torture she endured while she was regularly trafficked for sex at Defendants’ hotel properties,” according to the March 9 lawsuit.
In Virginia in 2012, a woman said she was trafficked out of hotels owned by Wyndham Hotels — such as a Super 8 in Hampton, Virginia — by a man she sought refuge with after facing homelessness. The woman was forced to perform sex acts on men at least seven times a day but sometimes twice that and her trafficker paid hotel staff to look the other way, a Dec. 2 lawsuit alleged.
The men, many of them repeat customers, entered through the front lobby, the lawsuit said.
“I felt invisible the whole entire time,” the 32-year-old woman told The Associated Press. “That was the worst part, is knowing that people knew and nobody was willing to help.”
The AP does not identify victims of sexual assault.
To read the full story by Andrew Welsh-Huggins on APNews: Click Here
November 6, 2019
A diversion program for victims of human trafficking is spreading to cities around the country. The model has roots in Columbus, Ohio, where a judge decided to direct women toward rehabilitation instead of jail.
Ten years ago, Judge Paul Herbert was sitting in a courtroom when he noticed a trend. He was seeing lots of women who were abused and forced into sex work, but they were being treated like criminals.
“The sheriff brings the next defendant out on the wall chained up,” Herbert says, “and it’s a woman and she’s all beat up, she’s looking exactly like one of these victims of domestic violence except she’s in handcuffs and a jail suit. I look down at the file and it says prostitute.”
Herbert realized the law didn’t recognize these women as victims of human trafficking. So he pitched the idea of a courtroom dedicated to recovery, not punishment. It’s called CATCH Court, which stands for Changing Actions To Change Habits.
“We didn’t have the vocabulary that we do, even the vocabulary, let alone the way society looked at these women,” Herbert says. “So it was pretty much, we were kind of a laughingstock.”
To read and listen to the full story by Paige Pfleger on NPR: Click Here
July 15, 2019
At the very end of a long municipal court hallway that mostly smells of sweat and despair, Vanessa Perkins turns slowly as she tries to decide where to sit for a quick afternoon break.
She looks to the left, to the right and back left again before she finally settles on a low-slung table. All the shabby blue chairs are doubles and would put her too close to people. And right now what Perkins needs most is space.
It has been an emotional day inside Courtroom 12C at the Franklin County Municipal Court building, where she is bailiff for Judge Paul Herbert. On most days, she does the same as any bailiff here: manages misdemeanor caseloads, handles the paperwork and deals with the myriad of problems that arise.
But this is a Thursday, and Thursdays and Fridays are different. That’s when Judge Herbert presides over CATCH Court (Changing Actions To Change Habits), a specialty docket for women in the system who are victims of human trafficking. After a lifetime of abuse, years of battling alcoholism and drug addiction and thousands of days running the streets of Franklinton, Perkins was among the first to graduate after CATCH started a decade ago this fall. Now, she is its highest officer.
March 5, 2019
On this recent day, about 16 current women of CATCH — gathered in a relaxed semicircle with the judge sitting on a chair near them, and Perkins and a probation officer sitting close by — were asking one another questions as part of peer-to-peer work. A woman named Jamie Vanover asked Perkins for advice. As per custom in this court, however, the first question posed was: “How many days you got?”
To read the full story by Holly Zachariah on The Columbus Dispatch: Click Here
Hundreds of people gathered in Columbus for the 10th annual Human Trafficking Awareness Day to discuss the most pressing issues related to the issue and share what has been working in their communities.
Advocates, law enforcement, attorneys and human trafficking survivors filled the Ohio Statehouse atrium for the conference hosted by Sen. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) and Rep. Tavia Galonski (D-Akron).
When Fedor first created this event just a few dozen people were in attendance, now more than 400 participate.
She says success can be measured by the ideas and best practices that are shared throughout the day.
“Bring everyone together and comb through the aspect of their policy, their procedures, and think of a trafficking victim, and can they service them. Can they rescue them? Can they service them? Provide restoration and help them get back to a life worth living in America,” says Fedor.
Groups from different backgrounds and professions have tables set up to share what they’re doing to help survivors of human trafficking.
To read and listen to the full story by Andy Chow on Statehouse News Bureau: Click Here