Point of View: Oklahoma bill would protect child sex-trafficking victims
I was in elementary school and 11 years old when I met the man who would soon rob me of my childhood. Coming from a home and community where drugs and abuse were the norm, I was an easy target for a man with sinister intentions. From age 13 to age 16, I was a sex-trafficking victim who endured horrific abuse, rape and torture at the hands of my trafficker. I was eventually able to break free from the manipulative hold he had over me and returned shortly after that and killed him.
Despite being a victim of child sex trafficking, sex abuse and rape committed by the man I had killed, I was tried as an adult where none of the abuse and complex trauma I experienced throughout my childhood were admitted into evidence. The prosecution, the judge and the media depicted me as a sophisticated monster, the worst of the worst, and sentenced me as such. The “justice” system sentenced me to life imprisonment without parole, plus four years, for killing the man who victimized me for nearly a third of my young life.
Years later, thanks to the tireless work of my legal team and community advocates, my sentence was commuted and reduced by former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. On Oct. 31, 2013, I was paroled from Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla after serving 19 years and 7 months. Despite having been free for more than five years now, my heart continues to ache at the injustice of locking up child victims of sex trafficking and sexual abuse who commit crimes against those who have abused and exploited them.
What happened to me was not justice. What has happened to other child sex-trafficking victims like Alexis Martin in Ohio and Cyntoia Brown in Tennessee, who also received life sentences for crimes committed against their traffickers, is not justice. None of us should have been sent to prison in the first place — a far too common response for girls of color in our country — especially for actions taken against their rapists and traffickers.
Being silenced, sexually assaulted, raped, trafficked and degraded creates deep wounds, especially for children. Every day, these wounds require courage, grace and an undefined strength to overcome.
When I was silenced, I felt invisible. I felt my voice and life experiences held no value. That I, as a person, had no value. I was labeled a “child prostitute,” “murderer,” “convicted teen killer,’, and “teen prostitute who killed her pimp,” and was sent to live out the rest of my days like a caged animal. All the sympathy seemed to be reserved for my rapist and sex trafficker, and none for me.
Nelson Mandela once said, “there is no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” What does it say about our soul then if we allow our children, who have been trafficked, to be sentenced to decades in prison for having committed crimes against their abusers? The children of Oklahoma deserve better than this, as all children do.
That is why Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, has introduced House Bill 3135, also known as “Sara’s Law,” to make sure that what happened to me never happens to a child victim in Oklahoma. Under this legislation, judges will be given greater flexibility in cases like mine to deviate from mandatory minimum sentences and suspend any sentence so as to not keep child victims in cages and in silence. Girls like us deserve to be protected by the system, not traumatized by it. HB 3135 will make sure that happens.
Let’s not allow the justice system to take anything else away from child trafficking and sexual abuse victims. We’ve been forced to give away too much already. Oklahoma has an opportunity to do better and be a national leader so that child-trafficking victims in situations like mine are met with empathy, compassion, understanding and love.
Kruzan lives in California.