A Central Ohio woman said goodbye to her past and hello to a brighter future, thanks to a state law designed to expunge the criminal records of victims of human trafficking.
Julie Hatfield would tell you that she knows what it's like to reach the depths of despair. A decade ago, a growing dependency on drugs led to a gang of dealers who forced her to hit the streets as a prostitute.
"They had control over me. Not only did the drugs have control over me, but then they had control over me beyond that," Hatfield said. "If I didn't go make the money, they would beat me, and when I was out making money, they would watch me and if they thought that I was going to buy from any other drug dealer. They would find me and they would beat me."
Finally arrested and facing felony warrants, she ran away to southern Ohio, where she said good people helped her turn away from drugs and turn toward a higher power.
She decided to come back to Columbus and turn herself in.
Expecting jail, she instead was sent to Judge Paul Herbert's CATCH program for human trafficking victims.
"It gave me a voice. CATCH court gave me my life back. It made me realize that I don't have to be ashamed of what I did. I was always afraid of the cops. I always thought the cops were bad. It just gave me the support and love that I never thought existed in life, and over the two-year period of time, I was able to let go of the shame," she said.
She stayed drug and trouble free, and eligible for record expungement under a new state law.
"As I look at the statute, you clearly fit the reason why I believe this statute was written, so therefore, I want to let you know that I am going to expunge each and every one of your prior convictions. Congratulations," Herbert told Hatfield.
After leaving her unfortunate past behind, Hatfield stepped toward her future, graduating from the impact program with new work, resume, and interview skills.
"The state of Ohio is recognizing that this is a syndrome that women and girls go through and we, as a community, want to stand up and protect them from what's happening. So I think this is a huge step in that and I am glad to be part of it," Hatfield said.