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  • Writer's pictureNBWJI

Chrystul Kizer is a child sex-trafficking victim and survivor. She is now facing up to 20 years in prison for surviving.



Last month, Chrystul Kizer took a plea deal in a case that began when, as a 17-year-old Black girl, she killed the 34-year-old white man who had sexually assaulted her.

 

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court had previously ruled that Kizer could use a Wisconsin law intended to protect trafficking victims as part of her defense. That 2008 law shields trafficking victims from being punished for crimes committed as a direct result of having been trafficked.

 

Chrystul Kizer is a child sex-trafficking victim and survivor. She is now 23 years old and facing up to 20 years in prison for surviving.

 

The reality is that there is an abuse-to-incarceration pipeline in the United States that overwhelmingly impacts Black women and girls," said Dr. Sydney McKinney, executive director of the National Black Women's Justice Institute. "We have a criminal-legal system in which Chrystul Kizer and too many other girls like her are punished for surviving abuse, exploitation, and gender-based violence." She continued:


“Courts across the country criminalize Black women and girls for surviving abuse and sexual violence. Survivors need support accessing healing services, not punishment. Yet, too many are punished and incarcerated for actions they take to survive. NBWJI does not condone violence of any kind, but we hold firm that incarceration serves no one and cannot address the trauma that criminalized survivors bear. 


“Incarceration only worsens and intensifies the harm, mimicking the coercive control and loss of bodily autonomy that sex trafficking survivors experience at the hands of traffickers. Sending Chrystul Kizer to prison for any amount of time is the wrong decision; it will not heal anyone and will only cause more harm.

 

“The response of the prosecutor involved in this case is disappointing, infuriating, and unacceptable, yet unsurprising. Whether states have laws on the books or not, we need prosecutors and judges to have deep compassion for survivors and to use their power and discretion to opt for healing-centered alternatives instead of punishment for girls like Chrystul Kizer, who was a child in an impossible situation fighting for her life.

 

“We must end the criminalization of survivors of sex abuse, assault, and exploitation.  We must believe Black women and girls. We must respect, value, and honor the voices and humanity of Black women and girls.”

 

More about Chrystul

 

Chrystul grew up in Gary, Indiana. Her mom worked to support her children and Chrystul’s interest and talent in music. In junior high, Chrystul earned a spot in the city’s performing arts academy playing violin. After her mom’s boyfriend became violent, however, the family fled Indiana, left most of their belongings, and moved to Milwaukee, where they stayed in a shelter for months before they found an apartment.

 

Chrystul’s abuser found her through Backpage.com, which Chrystul had posted on to make money for school supplies and snacks. Her abuser, a white man, was known to have abused and filmed abuse of other underage Black girls. He had been previously arrested on child sexual assault charges. However, he was released the same day, the court summons to bring him back to court never arrived, and he would go on to abuse Chrystul.

 

What needs to change


Whether someone is trafficked or the victim of domestic violence or gender-based violence, first we must believe survivors. And we must especially believe Black women & girls.

 

We also need to end the criminalization of survival. Survived & Punished and Survivors Justice Project are among some of the organizations that are leading the way in these efforts.

 

We need effective safe harbor and survivor justice laws and policies that take into account the experiences of victims and survivors and that acknowledge the often no-choice strategies they use to protect themselves and survive.

 

A majority of states have what are known as “safe harbor” laws that recognize and treat youth who have been involved in commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking as victims, not perpetrators, of crimes. These laws can protect people who can show that a crime they committed happened because they were being commercially sexually exploited. Most states, including Wisconsin, also have “affirmative defense” laws, which provide trafficking victims a defense for any offense related to their victimization. We not only need these laws in all states, we also need legal officials to understand how trafficking works in practice and the actions that surround it, including grooming and abuse.

 

A few states also have or are considering “survivor justice” laws that allow courts to take into consideration a survivor’s experiences of domestic violence or intimate partner violence as contributing factors in those cases. We must advocate to strengthen and expand these laws to all states and work to ensure that survivors are given opportunities to heal, rather than punishment.


Getting these types of laws in place is a first step, but we also need survivors to be able to access the protection and compassion that these laws offer. Prosecutors and courts hold the power and often have discretion in determining whether to apply these laws. We urge them to offer broad access and opt for healing-centered alternatives instead of punishment for survivors. 

 

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