Sex trafficking survivor still in jail

The fate of child sex trafficking victim Sara Jessimy Kruzan was put on hold Tuesday after Riverside District Attorney Paul Zellerbach was granted a 30-day deadline extension in response to Kruzan’s request for a new trial for shooting and killing her former pimp.

Kruzan was sentenced to life in prison at 16 years old after being convicted of the 1994 murder of convicted pimp George Gilbert “G.G.” Howard. Kruzan testified that James Earl Hampton, G.G.’s rival, ordered her to commit the murder and threatened to kill her if she did not comply. Although Kruzan, now 34, was a minor at the time, special circumstances of the trial upheld a mandatory life prison sentence.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reduced Kruzan’s life sentence term to 25 years with the chance of parole in January 2011. Kruzan is currently serving her 18th consecutive year in prison at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla.

According to many anti-human trafficking activists, including Daphne Phung, Founder and Executive Director of California Against Slavery, Kruzan’s high profile case is a trailblazer in the fight to end modern-day slavery.

Phung is also the leading lobbyist for Proposition 35, which would increase penalties for human traffickers and protect victims’ rights by recognizing them as victims and not criminals (if under age 18 and coerced into sexual exploitation, or both).

“If Prop. 35 had been in place when Sara was being victimized, her trial would have been completely different,” said Phung . “It certainly would have allowed her a position as plaintiff, opposed to defendant or victim in the trial.”

Phung said it would have prevented her from being accused of any crime at all, because she would have never gotten in that situation in the first place. She said Kruzan would have been recognized as a victim earlier on in her life and been treated with the proper help she deserved.

The state Supreme Court has ordered review of Kruzan’s request for a new trial, where she can present a defense as a victim of intimate partner battering by Howard.  According to Kruzan’s testimony and writ of habeas corpus, Howard raped Kruzan as a child and groomed her for prostitution since she was 11. The attorney general’s office admitted that because Kruzan was sexually abused and exploited as a child, she should not be punished as she would if she were an adult.

Activists like Elizabeth O’Hara, who started the Save Sara Campaign (a photo petition lobbying for Kruzan’s freedom), point out that granting Kruzan’s prison release is the “right thing to do,” based on the rise of anti-human trafficking legislation since the passing of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.

“More and more women are being let off with justifiable homicide today for committing crimes that can be considered far worse than what Sara was convicted for, especially considering her circumstances,” said O’Hara. “I absolutely believe that today, with the evolution taking place in human trafficking and women’s rights, and the fact that trafficked girls are finally starting to be seen for what they are–which is victims, not criminals–Sara would not receive the same sentence she received 17 years ago.”

Whether or not Kruzan is released in 30 days or granted a new trial, media attention and new legislation, like the proposal of Proposition 35, have caused her case to grow historically in representing the modern abolitionist movement in California and is a trailblazer, as Phung said, on the forefront of anti-trafficking activism.

Zellerbach is scheduled to make his decision by Oct. 18.

About Melissa Hoon

Melissa writes for the Orange County Register and is a graduate student at Cal State Fullerton with a degree in journalism and American studies. She reports on domestic and international humanitarian issues, focusing on sex trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery that forces individuals into sexual exploitation, many of whom are under age 18. Melissa’s work has taken her across the globe, including to Vietnam twice where she volunteered and worked as a foreign news correspondent, and to South Africa where she lived and volunteered at a home for abandoned, abused and neglected children, and reported on the poor aiding the poor in opposition to receiving government assistance. Melissa’s graduate work, equal to a thesis, focused on the Civil War, abolitionism and varying forms of slavery, primarily human trafficking with a concentration on rape and prostituted underage girls. Melissa has been credited as Editorial Assistant for the American Quarterly, the flagship journal for American studies, produced at University of Southern California, and has held several editor positions at the Daily Titan. She has been a guest speaker in university journalism classes and has volunteered teaching journalism skills at numerous high schools. Currently, Melissa is a staff writer for LA YOGA Magazine and proctors exams to students with disabilities at Chapman University.