On any given day, GRACE Court — a specialized trauma court that deals with juvenile victims of human trafficking — usually consists of many emergencies, including defiant teenagers, contempt proceedings, frequent run away episodes, and hearings to commit young children into a residential psychiatric treatment facility.
Most of the people who appear before the court have lifetime trauma that they are dealing with. Everyone, despite his or her best efforts, often feel defeated and beaten. Sometimes this includes even me, the judge.
But today was a good day. No, today was a great day! Today was a day like few others. Today was a day of hope. Today was a day to remind us why we need to fight the good fight, even if it means saving one child at a time.
C.C. (her initials are being used to protect her identity) came into the system at the tender age of 14. Her mom had died years before. Her dad had allegedly physically abused her.
Although her father denied these allegations, he did stick to his guns that his only daughter could not come back into his home. C.C. was arrested for prostitution at the age of 14, and brought into the child welfare system. Due to the Safe Harbor Act, which protects children from prosecution for prostitution, she was treated as a human trafficking victim, and not a criminal.
Unfortunately, most of the time, we hear only of the sad cases, of the tragic cases, of the cases that make us question if there is any hope for humanity. C.C. has restored hope and faith for so many of us. This is not only her success story, but also our success story.
Once in the system, C.C. was assigned a dedicated therapist. C.C. received hours of therapy. She participated in a drug program,. underwent treatment interventions to help her deal with her depression, her sadness, her irritability, her sleep issues, her social withdrawal, her lack of energy among many other issues.
Instead of being faced with judgment by all, she was treated with kindness and understanding. She was empowered to believe in herself. Consequently, unlike many other children that do not receive the services they need, she was supported, cared for, and given the tools to succeed.
Today when she walks into court, we all celebrate her victory. She is greeted with a room of cheers. She is greeted with a gift for her many accomplishments. She is given a tray of cupcakes that she decides to share with us because she wants to share her victory with all of us.
C.C. is graduating from high school this year, an accomplishment that is rare for many of the victims of human trafficking. She has been accepted at the University of Florida. She has decided to pursue both a medical and law degree. She is considering being an advocate for human trafficking so she can help others.
This story may seem insignificant to many, but to those that work with a population, where every day is a struggle for them, and the children are dealing with a lifetime of trauma, today is better than winning the lottery.
For it gives all of us hope and faith that our children can be saved one child at a time.
Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia is the Associate Administrative Judge of Juvenile and heads the first known trauma informed unified family court in the country, formalized in April of 2016, that deals with all aspects of human trafficking juvenile victims.