December Newsletter: Pieper Lewis should not go to prison
Trigger warning: sexual assault, death, child abuse.
Pieper Lewis is a sex trafficking victim in Iowa who could face the next 20 years in prison after she escaped her rapist by killing him when she was 15 years old. The Des Moines Register's Philip Joens documented Pieper's story in an investigative report published last month.
Following mental and emotional abuse at the hands of her mother, Pieper - who is Black - was kicked out of her home and didn't have a place to stay. An older man forced her into sex trafficking in exchange for a place to stay, but was never charged with any crime. He put Pieper in touch with a second man, who raped Pieper multiple times in exchange for $50 worth of marijuana. Pieper says she "was overcome with rage" that night and killed her rapist. Pieper, now 17, is currently in the custody of the juvenile detention system.
The Register published an editorial follow-up, saying, "Lawmakers and other authorities have the power and discretion to ensure sex trafficking survivors who lash out are treated fairly and compassionately." In Pieper's case, law enforcement "never looked into whether trafficking had occurred."
"Teenagers shouldn't end up in situations where they have to decide between suffering repeated abuse and fighting back violently," the Register wrote. "But when it does, at the very least, Iowa's criminal justice apparatus must consider the context of that abuse at every step before it incarcerates a child."
We agree. We believe the criminal legal system is failing Pieper by not taking into account her trauma and victimization.
Unfortunately, this is part of a nationwide trend we're seeing: state prosecutors continue to target young BIPOC women for jail time after they have defended themselves against their abusers.
This seems particularly egregious following the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict last month. Rittenhouse was a white male teenager who was acquitted of homicide charges under Wisconsin's self-defense law after he shot three people during a protest, killing two of them.
Pieper is not the only survivor facing jail time for defending herself, either. Chrystul Kizer, in Wisconsin same as Rittenhouse, awaits trial on charges of escaping her sex trafficker by killing him three years ago when she was 17. Her lawyers are invoking a self-defense argument that has never been used in a homicide case in the state before.
Maddesyn George, a 27-year-old Native mother and a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes in Eastern Washington, is being charged with voluntary manslaughter after shooting the white man who raped her. Despite immediately providing the police with a detailed account of the rape and the following events, Maddesyn was never provided a sexual assault forensic exam and she was jailed without an attorney present.
Victims and survivors like Pieper, Chrystul, and Maddesyn need resources, support, and counseling to address the traumas they've endured. It's disappointing that our criminal legal system instead threatens to lock them into jails and prisons and throw away the key. Survivors deserve better than that, and we deserve a criminal legal system that can understand the nuance of their collective traumas, and do the right thing by allowing them a second chance to thrive.
Ways you can help
Click the links below for resources and ways you can help provide support for Pieper Lewis, Chrystul Kizer, and Maddesyn George. Click here to find out more about combatting labor and sex trafficking in Iowa.
If able, donate to a GoFundMe page set up by one of Pieper's former high school teachers by clicking here. The money will be used to help Pieper with expenses while she is incarcerated.
Right now Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley has the power to drop all charges against Chrystul immediately. Click here to sign the petition to Mr. Graveley.
The prosecution of Maddesyn inspired a grassroots campaign of Indigenous and anti-violence organizers to support and organize with her and her family. Click here to find out more.