Greif Fellowship allows alumna to pursue dream of helping victims of human trafficking
By: Madeleine Thomas
The opportunity to work closely with victims and survivors through the Greif Fellowship in Juvenile Human Trafficking is precisely what led recent alumna Rachel Tallmadge ‘17 to apply to The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law in pursuit of her JD. In her current role as a Greif fellow, she provides criminal and civil legal representation to juvenile victims of sex and labor trafficking—an issue that hits close to home here in Ohio.
“To the problem in Ohio, Ohio has a number of highways that connects it to other states, to big cities, and it has large events. These are all things that reach large masses of people, and some of those people buy other people,” Tallmadge said.
Concrete data estimating the scope of human trafficking is limited, yet human trafficking supports a multi-billion industry worldwide. Last year as many as 1 in 6 runaways reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children were believed to be victims of sex trafficking. In Ohio, many victims are just 13 when they become ensnared in sex trafficking, according to the Ohio Human Trafficking Commission. In 2015, the state also had the fourth highest number of trafficking cases reported to the National Trafficking Hotline, leaving much work in the fight against human trafficking to be done.
“This is a huge industry, and demand is a large part of that. If people didn’t purchase these children or women or men, things would change,” Tallmadge said. “There is also a large percentage of trafficking online, where people can order sex workers. A number of those girls on websites like Backpage are underage and there is little online regulation to prevent these big companies, in addition to individuals, from profiting from the human trafficking industry.”
Established in 2013 with grant funding from the Greif Packaging Charitable Trust, the Greif Fellowship in Juvenile Human Trafficking operates under the supervision of Professor Kimberly Jordan, who directs Moritz’s Justice for Children Project. Tallmadge’s caseload frequently involves juvenile delinquencies, status offenses, abuse or neglect issues, providing legal and immigration assistance to undocumented victims, or obtaining protection orders for a victim against his or her trafficker.
Tallmadge is also connected with several human trafficking coalitions throughout Columbus and the greater Ohio area, including the Central Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition (CORRC) and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Human Trafficking Commission, to continue advocating for improved legislation and better empowerment of victims and survivors. She accredits Moritz’s Justice for Children Clinic and the Criminal Defense Clinic with providing an outlet to pursue her passion for social justice as a student. The opportunity to work closely with expert faculty and to represent real clients in the courtroom also laid the foundation to excel as a Greif fellow.
“My entire law school education was fantastic, but I can’t fully describe how significant the clinics were to my legal education,” Tallmadge said. “It’s really impactful to get to actually work with clients, learn how to advocate for people in the legal system and how to give them a voice, and empower them in a system that’s not built for empowerment. Both the Justice for Children Clinic and the Criminal Defense Clinic allowed me to explore the kind of attorney that I wanted to be in practice.”
As a student, Tallmadge spent a year volunteering at the Legal Aid Society of Columbus and worked at the Franklin County Public Defender’s Office in the juvenile and municipal units. She also spent a semester externing in the Public Defender’s Office throughout her 3L year as well, where she shadowed attorneys in the felony, municipal, and juvenile units.
Tallmadge’s work in the Public Defender’s Office familiarized her with the use of diversion programs for adult victims and survivors of human trafficking in Franklin County. As a law clerk, she screened people for CATCH (Changing Actions to Change Habits) Court, which helps victims of trafficking facing related criminal charges, like prostitution. Participants can complete a two-year court diversion program with access to various support services.
“After survivors and victims are identified in legal proceedings due to specialty dockets, programs and services, we’re now able to acknowledge the experience that they have been through and provide resources to victims instead of solely punishment,” Tallmadge said. “I would like to be part of walking alongside survivors through the legal process, helping them to have a voice—anything we can do to support their walk through the healing process and give them the tools that they need to succeed.”
While CATCH Court was created in Franklin County to aid adult trafficking victims, Ohio authorized a similar statewide diversion program for child victims and survivors of trafficking through the passage of Ohio House Bill 262 (Ohio’s Safe Harbor Law) in 2012. Unlike CATCH Court, juvenile human trafficking victims do not have to plea to a charge, as their cases are temporarily suspended while they complete a diversion program that connects them to support services, including mental health and medical care, safe housing, and educational support.
Following the passage of the Safe Harbor Law, the penalty for human trafficking in Ohio was also raised from a second degree to a first degree felony, with a mandatory prison term of 10 to 15 years. Among other provisions, the law requires convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders and allows human trafficking victims to file a civil suit against their traffickers as well.
Franklin County’s juvenile court is also currently in the process of establishing a specialized docket for juvenile victims of human trafficking called Empowerment Court and is awaiting certification from the Supreme Court of Ohio. Empowerment Court involves two programs: a Safe Harbor diversion program and a specialized probation program for survivors and victims of trafficking.
Tallmadge hopes that as she assists victims and survivors through the state’s legal system, they can also start to reclaim their freedom from the abusive cycles of their traffickers.
“That’s really what draws me and keeps in engaged with this whole process and the legal field: seeing what a difference having an advocate on your side can do for you in the legal system,” she said. “The people are really why I’m interested in doing this, and the impact at an individual level to help somebody get their life back, get connected with the right services, and become self-empowered.”