My name is Sara Jessimy Kruzan. Before I became a human rights advocate, I was known by my inmate number: W-59700.

In 1995, at the age of 17, I was sentenced to die in prison for killing the man who had been trafficking me for more than five years. I was only 11 years old when the man who exploited me began to groom me for the underage selling of a child within the dark shadows of our communities. Yet, during my trial the abuse and complex trauma I experienced throughout my childhood was not admitted into evidence and I was not allowed to speak of it.

The prosecution, the judge, and the media depicted me as a sophisticated monster, the worst of the worst and sentenced me as such. The so-called “justice” system sentenced me — a child sex trafficking and rape survivor — to life imprisonment without parole, plus four years, for killing the man who stole my childhood and victimized me for nearly a third of my young life.

Twelve years into my sentence, I was interviewed by Human Rights Watch where I was finally able to speak about some of the traumas and abuses I experienced. As a result, I received national and international attention from individuals, celebrities, and judicial reform groups, who advocated for a new trial. Not too dissimilar from what recently happened with Cyntoia Brown.

Rep John Mizuno Chair Health and Human Services Comm Briefing on Homeless solutions.

Hawaii state Rep. John Mizuno is the lead sponsor of Sara’s Law.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

People all over the world began advocating for my freedom. Due to the tireless work of my legal team and community advocates, my sentence was commuted and reduced. On Oct. 31, 2013, I was paroled from Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla after serving 19 years and seven 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 happened to Cyntoia, despite her sentence being commuted, was not justice. And what has happened to Alexis Martin, another child sex trafficking victim currently serving a life sentence for participating in a crime that resulted in her trafficker’s death, 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 they take against their rapists and traffickers.

Deep Wounds

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. Imagine if Cyntoia, Alexis, or I were your own daughter, how you might respond to the vile men who exploited and abused us? Is it so difficult to understand then how a 16-year-old girl, who was raped and abused and exploited from the time she left elementary school, would end up killing the man who harmed her so? What should we do with her? Our answer to this question says a lot more about us than it does about her.

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. It was only my act of violence which seemed to matter to the justice system, not what led up to it or what the person I had harmed had done to me. Instead, I was labeled a “Child Prostitute,” “Murderer,” “Convicted Teen Killer,” and “Teen Prostitute Who Killed Her Pimp,” and was left to die in a cage after being told by a judge that I lacked “moral scruples.”

“Girls like us deserve to be protected by the system, not traumatized by it.”

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 abused, raped, and exploited, to be sentenced to decades in prison for having committed crimes against their abusers, rapists, and exploiters?

I have been working alongside the survivor-led nonprofit organization Human Rights for Kids on a policy solution to make sure that what happened to Cyntoia, Alexis, and me never happens again. Under our proposal, judges will be given greater flexibility in cases like ours and urged to keep us in the juvenile or child welfare system to provide us with services and care, and not to keep us in cages and silenced. Girls like us deserve to be protected by the system, not traumatized by it. Sara’s Law, as we are calling it, will make sure that happens.

Sara’s Law has been introduced as House Bill 932 by Hawaii state Rep. John Mizuno so that none of Hawaii’s children have to suffer like I and so many other sex trafficked, exploited, and abused children have had to.

Let’s not allow the justice system to take anything else away from child sex trafficking and sexual abuse victims. We’ve been forced to give away too much already. Let’s do better so that the next Cyntoia Brown, Alexis Martin, or Sara Kruzan is met with empathy, compassion, understanding, and love. That is the more humane way; that is the Hawaiian way as defined by the aloha spirit. Call your legislators and tell them to support HB 932 — Sara’s Law.

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About the Author

  • Sara Jessimy Kruzan
    Sara Jessimy Kruzan was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole at the age of 17, after being convicted of killing the man who had been abusing, raping, and trafficking her from the time she was 11 years old. After more than 19 years of incarceration, hersentence was commuted by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in California and she was later granted parole. Today, Kruzan is a human rights advocate and fights on behalf of victims of child sex trafficking, systemic violence, and those impacted by disproportionate and extreme sentencing.