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WLWT: Human trafficking survivor inspired to help others after CHANGE Court

UC psychologist assists victims of sex trafficking, substance abuse

Journalist Alexis Rogers reports on program from Hamilton County Court to train staff members on trauma-informed approaches, conduct assessments and offer therapeutic services to CHANGE Court participants.

CHANGE Court—which stands for Changing Habits And setting New Goals is Empowering—is a judge-supervised treatment program created in 2014 by the Honorable Judge Heather Russell with the goal of offering a voluntary, non-adversarial approach to victims of sex trafficking who have pled guilty to offenses related to solicitation or drug use.

Maria Espinola, assistant professor in the UC Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, is part of CHANGE Court and says its hands on approach to helping participants is valuable and yields results. She received funding in May 2018 from Hamilton County Court to advance the work of CHANGE Court. Espinola is a clinical psychologist seeing clients at UC Health.

“It's a multidisciplinary program where we value and incorporate feedback from people from many different fields from many different walks of life and it's wonderful so we meet as a team, once a week for two hours with the judge and lawyers and caseworkers," Espinola told WLWT. “It was created by Judge Heather Russell. So when I met her about two and a half years ago, we decided to collaborate and we started collaborating formally about a year and a half ago."

Image of Maria Espinola

Maria Espinola, assistant professor at UC, speaks with WLWT Channel 5.

Since joining the UC faculty in 2016, Espinola has been involved in extensive advocacy efforts to support victims of human trafficking in Ohio. She has spoken at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and Ohio Supreme Court roundtables to help judges, legislators and advocates understand the specific circumstances of trafficking victims, including how to work with survivors, recognizing immigrants’ vulnerability to exploitation and understanding the mental health issues that can prevent victims’ from successfully reintegrating back into society.

Rogers interviewed Jacqueline Collins, a participant of CHANGE Court who has been clean for 15 months after a hard journey battling addiction.

"I was sex trafficked. I prostituted. I was homeless,” Collins told WLWT. "I just got tired. If you are not tired you won't change.”

Now, Collins stands as a survivor who enjoys the support of the Change Court.

"Since I have been in Change Court I have accomplished my high school diploma. I have my CDCA (chemical dependency counselor assistant certificate). I just want to reach out to others that have been through what I have been through. Let them know if I can do it, you can do it," Collins said.

Watch the WLWT broadcast

Learn more about Espinola’s work with CHANGE Court online

Additional coverage of CHANGE Court and Espinola include:

WCPO: Police work to combat human trafficking