It’s something Youngstown Municipal Judge Renee DiSalvo said has been out there for years — just never really noticed until recently.
“We are seeing victims of human trafficking come before our bench. Come before our courts under driving-under-suspension, solicitation, theft,” said Judge Renee Disalvo.
Starting next month, the judge will initiate a new program for the court aimed at recognizing those victims and getting them help, instead of simply locking them up.
It’s something she started working on soon after being sworn in last November.
“It’s inherently unjust to treat these people who are being forced into this life as criminals when they come in. They’re being forced into this,” Disalvo said.
It’s called “Growth Restored through Acceptance, Change and Empowerment” — or “GRACE” and will be patterned after similar programs already running in Columbus and elsewhere.
The Judge says Ohio ranks fifth in the nation for human trafficking cases, many involving victims with long histories.
“We’re finding that there’s a number of individuals trafficked by family members, by friends,” Disalvo said.
The program will offer screening to offenders to determine the sort of treatment they need and then get them into counseling.
“It’s helping them to get restored. Helping them become employable. Giving them a second chance. It’s giving them hope,” Disalvo said.
In doing so, the Judge says the program will also help attack the valley’s drug epidemic by focusing on the users.
“Even if we get one person. One person, then it’s all worth it,” she said.