(NEW YORK) — Child sex trafficking victims implicated for crimes against their abusers are speaking out amid an ongoing push for laws that change how such cases are treated in the criminal justice system.
In 1995, Sara Kruzan was 17 when she was sentenced to life in prison for killing the man who she says began grooming her at the age of 11.
“I was an easy target for a man with disturbing intentions. From ages 13 to 16, I was a child sex trafficking victim who endured horrific abuse and rape at the hands of my trafficker and other adult males,” Kruzan told ABC News.
Kruzan would go on to spend nearly two decades in prison before her sentence was commuted twice — once in 2011 and once in 2013. She was released that year and was pardoned by California Gov. Gavin Newsom last July.
Since her release, Kruzan has dedicated her life to children who find themselves in the position she was once in — vulnerable, powerless and at the constant mercy of abusers.
Nearly 1,000 children were forced into sexual slavery in 2020, according to the Administration for Children Families. Victims often have a history of neglect, abuse and trauma. But in most cases, the abuse goes unreported.
In many cases, victims never return home. Only an estimated 1% to 2% of child sex trafficking victims are recovered, according to Erase Child Trafficking.
“The sex industry preys on vulnerability and marginalization,” said Yasmin Vafa, a human rights attorney who co-founded the nonprofit Rights4Girls. “And so those children who are marginalized by race and ethnicity, by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, by disability, by immigration status, by a whole host of factors. Those children are more likely to be exploited because they are vulnerable.”
In Wisconsin, 22-year-old Chrystul Kizer is facing a life sentence for killing the man who she says forced her into sex work.
Kizer met Randall Phillip Valor when she was 16 years old. She says Valor sexually abused her and recorded the acts. After a year of abuse, Kizer went to Valor’s home and shot him. She then started a fire and drove away in his car.
Kizer later admitted to detectives that she “had gotten upset and was tired of [him] touching her.” She was charged with multiple felonies, including first-degree homicide, and has since been released on bond.
In a groundbreaking decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Kizer may have the chance to be acquitted of all charges using a state law meant to provide immunity to victims of human trafficking.
Kizer’s defense argues that when she committed the murder, she was being trafficked and for no other reason would it have occurred, ABC News legal contributor Channa Llloyd said. The burden is now on the state to prove being sexually trafficked wasn’t a direct cause.
Kruzan said that trying child sex trafficking victims as adults is “another form of human rights violations.” She’s now part of an ongoing push to change laws around sentencing child victims of sex trafficking.
Backed by bipartisan representatives, one of them is “Sara’s Law” or “The Preventing Unfair Sentencing Act.” If passed, it would give judges discretion to hand down reduced sentences for child survivors and promote physical and psychological recovery for child sex trafficking victims.
Looking back at her case, Kruzan wishes that the justice system treated her with compassion.
“You know, trying to ask the right questions, to say, well, what happened to you? How did this happen? And then, how did the adults miss it?” Kruzan said.
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