YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – It was an emotional day in court Tuesday as the first graduate of GRACE Court was honored.
GRACE Court is a program overseen by Judge Renee DiSalvo to help victims of human trafficking. The program gives victims who have been charged criminally an opportunity to receive treatment, resources and help as opposed to jail time.
“When you hear them saying, ‘I want to be back with my family,’ when you see that they want to get better, they just don’t know how, that kinda tugs at me,” Judge DiSalvo said.
The program began in 2019. It helps victims, usually women, who have been victims of sex trafficking and struggled with drug addiction. The very first graduate of the program received a certificate on Tuesday.
“She agreed that she wanted to get into it and she did and she was in the program for about a year. There’s different phases — the first phases are more intense than the latter phases — and she completed the entire program… She has really accomplished some great milestones,” Judge DiSalvo said.
Judge DiSalvo also entered two women into the program who were in it once before but fell off. Both women explained to Judge DiSalvo that they wanted help to turn their lives around.
“I never thought I’d be the type of mom to just abandon my kids. I never meant to abandon my kids… I’m just trying to fix everything that I’ve done wrong. Most of all, I just want to be a mom to my kids and just be normal,” one woman said.
“It’s not going to be easy. I’m not gonna sit here and tell you that you’re gonna be able to get the treatment and walk off and just live a life of sobriety, and out of this mess. But I can tell you that you’re able to do it,” Judge DiSalvo told the women.
Judge DiSalvo got out of her seat during the court hearing to stand on the floor near the victims.
“I want to be on their level. I want to be sitting down with them. I want them to trust me,” she said.
After speaking with the women, she even became emotional at one point.
“When you know that you have the ability to help somebody that’s in that state to get back on their feet and to be all that they have been created to be, it tugs at you,” she said.
Currently, there are four women going through the program. Judge DiSalvo said she wants people to know that treatment courts work.