The same legal system that falls all over itself to protect police officers who kill unarmed Black people from accountability seems to do the bare minimum, if anything at all, to protect sex trafficking and abuse victims who kill their abusers. We saw this with the case of Cyntoia Brown and now a similar case to hers has happened in Iowa.
According to the Associated Press, 17-year-old Pieper Lewis was initially charged with first-degree murder after she stabbed and killed her 37-year-old accused rapist who no one handling her case ever disputed was a rapist. Pieper was 15 years old at the time of the June 2020 killing of Zachary Brooks.
Now, a GoFundMe account created to raise money for Pieper is thriving.
To the Iowa legal system’s credit, Pieper was able to plea to involuntary manslaughter and willful injury last year, and despite the fact that those charges were each punishable by up to 10 years behind bars, she won’t be serving any jail time so long as she doesn’t violate the terms of her probation. On Tuesday, she was sentenced to five years of closely supervised probation and ordered to pay $150,000 restitution to the family of her rapist.
Polk County District judge David M. Porter on Tuesday deferred those prison sentences, meaning that if Lewis violates any portion of her probation, she could be sent to prison to serve that 20-year term.
As for being required to pay the estate of her rapist, “this court is presented with no other option,” Porter said, noting the restitution is mandatory under Iowa law that has been upheld by the Iowa Supreme Court.
Lewis was 15 when she stabbed Brooks more than 30 times in a Des Moines apartment. Officials have said Lewis was a runaway who was seeking to escape an abusive life with her adopted mother and was sleeping in the hallways of a Des Moines apartment building when a 28-year-old man took her in before forcibly trafficking her to other men for sex.
Lewis said one of those men was Brooks and that he had raped her multiple times in the weeks before his death. She recounted being forced at knifepoint by the 28-year-old man to go with Brooks to his apartment for sex. She told officials that after Brooks had raped her yet again, she grabbed a knife from a bedside table and stabbed Brooks in a fit of rage.
Again, according to AP, neither police nor prosecutors disputed that Brooks was a child rapist and a willing participant in her being trafficked, but Brooks was asleep when then-15-year-old Pieper stabbed him, so in the minds of the prosecution he posed no immediate danger. And scratch what I said earlier about “to the Iowa legal system’s credit” because, as AP noted, “Iowa is not among the dozens of states that have a so-called safe harbor law that gives trafficking victims at least some level of criminal immunity.” So, allowing the only true victim in this case to avoid prison time was literally the least the court could do.
But prosecutors reportedly took issue with a Black girl who was trafficked and raped by grown men calling herself a victim. Instead, they chastised her for killing Brooks and “leaving his kids without a father” when what she actually did was leave his children without a child rapist for a father. But you can always tell when opinions are coming from people (read: men) who will never know what it’s like to be trafficked and raped as a child, teen or adult.
And, if we’re being honest, the judge wasn’t much better.
More from AP:
The judge peppered Lewis with repeated requests to explain what poor choices she made that led up to Brooks’ stabbing and expressed concern that she sometimes did not want to follow rules set for her in juvenile lockup.
“The next five years of your life will be full of rules you disagree with, I’m sure of it,” Porter said. He later added, “This is the second chance that you’ve asked for. You don’t get a third.”
I’m sorry, but what “poor choices” did Pieper make that led to her stabbing Brooks? Did she choose for a grown man to abduct her and traffic her to other grown men for sex? Did the then-15-year-old choose for 37-year-old Brooks to rape her repeatedly? It seems to me (as it would for anyone with even a smidgen of empathy and compassion) that the only thing she chose was to survive.
“My spirit has been burned, but still glows through the flames,” Pieper read from a prepared statement before her sentencing. “Hear me roar, see me glow, and watch me grow. I am a survivor.”
“Karl Schilling with the Iowa Organization for Victim Assistance said a bill to create a safe harbor law for trafficking victims passed the Iowa House earlier this year, but stalled in the Senate under concerns from law enforcement groups that it was too broad,” AP reported. What a big surprise it is that police officials thought a law granting limited immunity to sex trafficking victims is “too broad” while, again, the system bends over backward to give them essential immunity for killing citizens who posed no immediate threat to them because they were in fear for their lives.
Anyway, an educator who said Pieper was his former student set up a GoFundMe page to cover her legal fees and the 150,000 restitution to Brooks’ family. As of Tuesday morning, the online crowdfunding effort was about $30,000 from meeting its goal.
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