POMEROY — One year after bringing together numerous agencies, organizations and providers, the group gathered for the second annual Partners for Justice meeting.
Organized at the start for 2019 by Meigs County Prosecutor James K. Stanley and Victim Assistance Director Theda Petrasko, along with their staff members, the goal of the program is to better serve the victims of crime in the county. Smaller meetings have been held throughout the year, with more meetings being planned for 2020 to continue meeting the needs of those served by the justice system.
During the meeting on Friday in the Farmers Bank Community Room, the group heard from speakers from the Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program and Square One, as well as Common Pleas Court Judge Linda Warner and representatives from other agencies.
Paige Fuentes from the Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program (SAOP) based in Athens County and serving the region, including Meigs and Gallia counties, presented on human trafficking, including risks and red flags to look for in possible victims of sex trafficking and labor trafficking.
She spoke on the differences in prostitution and sex trafficking, as well as the difference in smuggling and tracking.
Fuentes explained factors that increase a child or adult’s risk of becoming a victim of trafficking, as well as ways in which the victim may be recruited into trafficking, including the promise of money, a better life, or love. Often those in poverty, runaway youth, and others in difficult circumstances are targeted by traffickers.
While many may think trafficking is a problem only in big cities, it is everywhere, with Ohio ranking among the highest states in the country, explained Fuentes.
In the Appalachian region, trafficking may look different, with at-risk youth, those in poverty and those impacted by the opioid/drug crisis having an impact on it.
She stated that many may not consider themselves to be victims and are fearful of law enforcement which can hinder reporting and investigations.
Fuentes advised the group on steps that can be taken to help once a possible victim is identified. Among the suggestions are to meet the victims where they are, ask questions about the signs of trafficking, but not specifically if the person is a victim of trafficking, provide information on help that is available, develop trust with the person and do not retraumatize them. Additionally, she said it could take as many as 10 times for a victim to accept help.
Ashley Durst, executive director of Square One domestic violence shelter, spoke about the shelter and programming which is planned to begin later this year.
Durst explained that there is a need for much more than a shelter, and that is the goal for Square One.
“This is where you start,” said Durst of Square One and the reason for the name. The shelter will be a place for individuals to learn life skills, job training, and other things that they will need to have the opportunity to be successful on their own.
The plan is for Mondays to be “Case Management Mondays” when the shelter will be open to those in the public who may needed the services provided. Many agencies will be available to meet with those staying at the shelter and the public, bringing the services to them. Additionally, a hot meal would be provided, as well as those coming for the day going home with a “survival kit” of food, hygiene and other items to help them get through the week.
The program will serve those who have may have mental health, substance abuse or previous criminal backgrounds. Durst noted that it is not reasonable to expect victims of domestic violence to come to them with no history, and it is important to meet the needs of anyone who needs help.
She said the shelter would be available to those in Meigs and Jackson counties as well as Gallia, with a goal of expanding to open shelters in those counties once the shelter in Gallia County is stable.
Judge Linda Warner spoke about the possible Drug Court program for Meigs County.
Warner explained that the specialized Drug Court docket is something that she has wanted to pursue for a lone time, providing an alternative to the current criminal justice system options.
The drug court programs have proven to be successful in other areas, with the goal to bring the program here soon.
An advisory board has been created locally to submit the necessary information to the Supreme Court of Ohio for certification to begin the program.
Warner said the program would be voluntary, with individuals screened by multiple programs and agencies to determine qualifications. The court would provide weekly meetings with a set schedule and structure to help the defendant. Numerous providers are on board to meet with the individuals and take part in the weekly meetings.
The program would last no less than 12 months and up to 18 months. There would be different steps in the program, with different requirements along the way.
Individuals would be able to receive incentives for meeting goals, and alternatively would receive sanctions for setbacks.
Dennis Johnson of TASC, who has worked with specialized dockets and drug courts in other counties, explained that the graduated sanction process and phases of the program allow for setbacks to be addressed, while praising the individuals for the successes and accomplishments they make.
Warner concluded by stating that the goal is to see all people succeed, although she knows that is not always possible, but that if it helps some people to break the cycle it is successful.
Sarah Hawleys is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.