A Message to Trafficking Victims That Their Lives Matter

It wouldn’t be until the year 2000 when the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was first passed as federal law that a child under the age of 18 who is in the commercial sex industry could be considered a victim of a severe form of trafficking.

Taking into account the vast amount of research and literature on child and adolescent development, the law also ensured that there was no need to prove ‘fraud, force or coercion’ if the victim was under the age of 18. The fact that the victim is a child is enough.

In 1994, there were few outreach or intervention programs specifically designed to serve commercially sexually exploited and trafficked girls; programs that might have prevented girls like me or Sara from being recruited by pimps in the first place and there was little understanding of the trauma bonds that trafficked girls have with their pimps and no empathy for victims. The most common question I would hear is ‘why didn’t you just walk away and get help’?

Sixteen years later, we are beginning to understand the close connection between the power and control used by batterers and by traffickers and we are learning that trafficking victims experience the same types of learned helplessness, Stockholm Syndrome, and inability to escape that many domestic violence victims do.

For trafficking victims, we know that these dynamics are only strengthened by the age of the victims, the histories of abuse that the vast majority of exploited children share and the continued lack of services and support available to these youth.

Since 2000, the focus of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and our understanding of trafficking has begun to include domestic children and youth.

We’re slowly beginning to recognize that you don’t have to be chained to a wall to think that you can’t leave; you don’t have to be undocumented to feel scared to go to the police and you don’t have to be from another country to feel as if you don’t have options in this one.

Girls, like Sara, particularly low-income girls, girls of color and girls who have grown up with family trauma and abuse are prime targets for exploiters.

With an estimated 300,000 children at high risk for commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking in this country, we are recognizing that this is not just a rare anomaly but a widespread issue impacting children throughout the United States.

We know so much more now about the nature of commercial sexual exploitation in the United States than we did back then and while there’s still much work to do on the issue, its hard to believe that any court today would sentence a child like Sara, clearly defined under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act as a victim of a ‘severe form of trafficking’ to spend the rest of her natural life in prison for killing the man who had trafficked, raped and exploited her. If they did, we would loudly protest and ask what justice is served by incarcerating a traumatized and exploited child for the rest of her natural life?

The question today in Sara’s case is, what justice is now served by continuing to incarcerate a woman who has served 16 years as a model prisoner?

No one is arguing that Sara represents any danger to society if she were to be released. In fact, all evidence points strongly to the fact at 32 years old, Sara is a resilient, compassionate and brave woman who could make significant contributions to society. This is a woman who has not let her past or her life circumstances define her. Throughout her incarceration, she has gained an education, served as a support and mentor to other incarcerated young women and was even once named Prisoner of the Year by the correctional officers. If she could accomplish all of that in prison, imagine what she could accomplish once free.

What happened in Sara’s case was a tragedy on many levels, but it was caused by the specific circumstances of her age and victimization.

Sara has taken responsibility for her actions on that night in 1994 and has already paid a hefty price. What responsibility are we as a society prepared to take for the fact that at 13 years old, Sara was a victim of trafficking bought and sold by adult men to adult men? Sara Kruzan had been failed by society long before her crime was committed. Allowing her to remain incarcerated only fails her, and our sense of justice and fairness further.

I’ve thought a lot about Sara Kruzan this year, and our shared past. I’m acutely aware that as I’ve had the opportunity to make mistakes, heal and grow over the last 16 years, I’ve been able to experience a freedom that was denied me when I was in the commercial sex industry.

Sara’s never experienced that freedom. Not as a child, abused and victimized by her family and the adult men who took advantage of her. Not as a young woman and now an adult, confined to a cell and living with the knowledge that without intervention she will die in prison. Governor Schwarzenegger had the power to grant clemency with time served for Sara and as individuals we have the power to encourage him to do so. (At the time this article was published, Arnold Schwarzennegger was the governor of California, the state where Sara Kruzan is incarcerated. Before leaving office, Schwarzenegger reduced Sara’s sentence to 25 years to life, allowing the possibility of parole.)

Rachel Lloyd

In 1998, with onlrachel lloydy a computer and $30, 23-year-old Rachel Lloyd (pictured left), a survivor of commercial sexual exploitation, established GEMS: Girls Educational and Mentoring Services to support girls and young women victimized by the commercial sex industry in the U.S.

Since its inception as a one-woman outreach program in 1998, GEMS has grown steadily, building its services and programs and garnering increased visibility and recognition under Lloyd’s leadership. Now the nation’s largest organization offering direct services to girls and young women, ages 12-21, who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking, GEMS empowers survivors to escape the sex industry and develop to their full potential.

Republished with the author’s permission from Huffington Post.


  1. -Nate says

    Thank you for not letting this crime get swept under the rug .

    The simple truth is : most men are not overly concerned about this typ of abuse as it supports the ideal of cheap , easily available sex , the Girls & Women hurt by this are not important to most Men.

    Example : Gov. Swartznegger could have pardoned her and obviously should have . however , this is a man who once bragged during a news interview about how he and a group of Male body builders once gang raped a Black Female body builder when she had the temerity to show up at one of those show off your muscles events…. she merely walked out on stage like the others (all men) and in his own words ‘ we all just jumped on her ‘ .

    I work with a Munincipal Police Department and the anti – Women comments I hear daily are horrific to say the least , not only from the Sworn Personnel , from almost every Male employee .

    • says

      Having worked in a prison, I cannot imagine such behaviors being tolerated by staff or other staff. But, then, we had eight hours of training every year making it very clear inappropriate remarks are under federal law on the workplace.

      However, I have a low tolerance of gossip. If you are going to make such a claim about the Governor, include a source for that information other than some blogger self-indulging themselves with “Chinese Whispers” or “The Telephone Game.”

      • reporter says

        Here’s a link with the full quote by the Gropinator: http://www.blackcommentator.com/106/106_freedom_rider_arnold.html

        Schwarzenegger made the comment to a reporter from Oui Magazine. It’s been widely reported many places and as far as I know he has never refuted it.

        There are also reports that he engaged in orgies on film sets, and that he has groped various women.

        If he won’t pardon this woman, perhaps the incoming Governor Brown will do so.

    • says

      By the way, failure to report a Hostile Workplace puts you at the same risk as those who make it so under federal codes and caselaw. The “Code of Silence” only exists because you allow it.

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