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Vice Unit Investigation Cut Enrollment In Sex Trafficking Court

Cleveland Avenue is considered a hot spot for sex work.
Paige Pfleger
Cleveland Avenue is considered a hot spot for sex work.

Advocates say referrals to a Franklin County specialty docket for people arrested for sex work were down 50 percent in 2018, at least in part because of the suspension and eventual disbandment of the Columbus Division of Police's Vice Unit.

CATCH Court, which stands for "Changing Actions To Change Habits," saw participation double every year during its first decade of operation. That trend changed significantly in 2018, according to Hannah Estabrook, a coordinator for the program.

"There was a pretty noticeable decline in referrals," she says. "And there are a few ways I think you can explain that and certainly one of those is that there were fewer prostitution related charges or arrests being made."

Columbus Police’s Vice Unit was one of the driving forces behind solicitation-related arrests in the city, and when the unit conducted stings, sex workers were introduced to CATCH Court as an option.

Vice’s disbandment isn’t necessarily the only factor behind the drop, Estabrook says. Franklin County started another program to help women in sex work, which might account for some of the decline.

She says CATCH Court will continue working to identify human trafficking victims arrested for charges other than solicitation.

"It gives us the opportunity to really step up our game in terms of screening for human trafficking survivors with different kinds of charges," she says. "That part I’m excited about, it’s a muscle we need to develop."