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The Antelope

The Antelope

Trafficking victim deserves justice, revised immunity laws


Imagine being a woman and experiencing the unthinkable. Your body is sold as currency against your will. You’re controlled by strange men who violate you and instill fear into your soul. Then you get that one-in-a-million chance to free yourself from one of your abusers. You act in self-defense and escape — only to be penalized for trying to save your own life. 

This is not a nightmare. This is Pieper Lewis’s case. 

Lewis was a human trafficking victim at only 15 years old. Instead of receiving time to heal, she received a charge for first-degree murder by the Polk County District Court in Iowa. She was given this charge for stabbing her abuser, 28-year-old Zachary Brooks. Fortunately, the court dropped the charge, but that wasn’t the end of it. 

On Sept. 6, the court sentenced Lewis to five years of highly supervised probation. She must wear a tracking device, and she faces 20 years in prison if she violates her probation. The cherry on top is that she was ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution to Brooks’ family. 

The probation and restitution charges against Lewis need to be dropped. A human trafficking victim does not deserve to be punished for defending herself. 

This is not the first time a trafficking victim has been mistreated by the justice system. The Decriminalize Sex Work website said these victims are often prosecuted for acts they were forced to commit in self-defense. 

The officials in the Iowa court and U.S. justice system need to ask themselves, “If I was in the same situation, would I have not fought for my own safety?” 

If these victims continue to be given unfair sentences, the real offenders win in the end.  

This case is another example of how homeless, minority youths are underrepresented. 

Lewis ran away from an abusive situation at home when she was 15 years old. Officials reported her sleeping in the hallways of an apartment complex in Des Moines, where her abuser, Zachary Brooks, found her. 

Homeless, minority youths need better representation in court. Lawyers and courts dealing with these cases need to extinguish all internal biases and racial profiling. If there’s any hope for healing, these victims need legitimate representation. 

Iowa is not among the 29 states that created procedures for survivors and pardon criminal offenses committed while being trafficked. Why is Iowa the exception? This fact is difficult to believe since the state rests in a region notorious for high human trafficking numbers. 

Immunity laws for human trafficking need to be approved in all 50 states. 

Despite the challenges Lewis faced, she still stands tall. She earned her GED while in juvenile detention, despite her struggle being held there. 

Others recognize Lewis’s injustice. They see her pain and support her. The proof is shown in the $150,000 raised in the GoFundMe account. This effort is inspiring, but it shouldn’t be necessary. The damage has already been done by charging Lewis to pay restitution. 

The U.S. justice system needs to do what is right before more victims fall beneath the cracks. Before more victims are taken advantage of for a second time.

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