On Sept.13 2022, 17-year-old Pieper Lewis was ordered to pay $150,000 to the family of the man she said raped her. She was also sentenced to five years in a correctional facility, along with 1,200 hours of community service.
Lewis has already spent two years locked up waiting for her hearing and subsequent sentencing.
Lewis was only 15 years old when she found herself on the run from what she says was an abusive home life. According to The New York Times, her witness statement said she had been bouncing from living situation to living situation, trying to find some kind of stability.
Her witness statement also described two men offering her a place to stay during a period when she was sleeping in an apartment building hallway. She left the first man when he turned out to be violent and abusive.
The second man was Christopher Brown, a 28-year-old whom she said she thought of as her boyfriend. When he began to show the same violent, sexually abusive behavior, she stayed.
Homelessness disproportionately affects people of color, making up about 40% of America’s homeless population despite only being around 13% of the general population.
Being young, Black and without a place to live is a combination of circumstances that put Lewis in danger. A combination that no doubt made her pause and weigh her options when she decided to stay with Brown.
According to the same Times article, Lewis’ statement said Brown began listing her on dating sites, forcing her to have sex with men for money.
Zachary Brooks, a 37-year-old man with children of his own, was one such alleged customer. Lewis said she was raped by him on several occasions before the night she finally killed him — all of which she was under nonconsensual intoxication, she says in her statement according to the Times.
On May 31, 2022, Brown tried to coerce her, as she said was common, to go to Brooks’ apartment. When she resisted, she said Brown pressed a knife to her throat, threatening until she agreed to go.
That night, after waking from another drug-induced haze, she saw Brooks sleeping and said she realized she’d been raped yet again. According to the Des Moines Register, Lewis’ plea agreement states she took a knife from the nightstand and stabbed him 30 times.
Lewis isn’t the only sex trafficking victim who killed her abuser and was treated just as a criminal.
In 1995, the then-teenage Sarah Kruzan was sentenced to life in prison for shooting and killing her trafficker, serving almost 20 years in prison before she was released under California Governor Gavin Newsom.
She said the American justice system isn’t properly able to handle the “complex and compounded trauma” marking so many who pass through it.
But how many stories like Pieper Lewis’ end not with the victim prevailing over their trafficker, but instead with their own death?
So many women of color caught up in human trafficking go missing, are murdered and end up as another unnamed statistic. But should a victim who ended their abuse through a crime be treated the same as any other criminal?