To The CNN Freedom Project: Sara Kruzan

If there was ever a sex trafficking story that needed your current exposure, it would the forgotten case of Sara Kruzan. Sara, a child sex trafficking victim was forced at 13 to become a sex slave after being groomed by her "pimp" starting at age 11. After three years of constant abuse, at age 16, Sara killed her "pimp". She was a juvenile sentenced as an adult to Life in Prison in California without the possibility of parole.

While Sara has been identified as the "poster child for juvenile life without parole", there is still a scarce amount of media attention given to her situation in recent years. As a victim of sexual slavery and trafficking, Sara has already served 17 years in prison. As of January 2011, her sentence was commuted from Life Without to 25 to Life with possible parole.

The 25 to life reduction has become the lesser of two evils, as it allows Sara to remain in prison but opens up a small window of opportunity to possibly obtain freedom at an indefinite time. Despite the atrocity of years that have passed, now is the time we have to regenerate extraordinary power to reverse this perverted sentence. It is now, upon the clemency including possible parole, that we must build public attention and political pressure on Governor Brown for release with time served. The blatant punishment of this child sex trafficking victim should not be tolerated one more day. Sexual slavery prevails because the Saras are in cells exponentially longer and at a much higher rate than the true criminals that allowed her to be faced with the situation in the first place.

Sara, like many other trafficking victims in the States, never had a voice legally nor a proper defense because of attitudes towards "prostitutes" as whores instead of child rape victims. Anti-prostitution laws were in effect and enough laws for Sara to have a proper defense, however, she did not have the money nor were the laws against predators remotely enforced. Instead, Sara was seen as the Life deserving criminal.

It is a well-known fact that famous people or high-profile cases get the vast majority of press while the stories of true tragedies like Sara are swept under the carpet. Sara's case should be highlighted not only for basic human rights violations by the media, but because "rape for profit" is the vast majority of the the fasting-growing organized crime in the world, buying and selling people.

As defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum, crimes against humanity 'are particularly odious offenses in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings... they are a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government.' Not only did George Howard meet all criteria for such crimes, but they were also tolerated and condoned by the government. In Sara's sentencing, the incompetent Judge's ruling ignored and tolerated the reality that Howard had committed Crimes Against Humanity towards Sara. The judge deemed Howard's death as the loss of a "victim" rather than the loss of a violent, inhumane criminal. The judge deemed Howard's "victimization" so severe that Sara should never see freedom again on his behalf.

How can we champion ourselves as a leading authority against global sex trafficking and claim to be helping victims while ignoring the Saras of this country? It is a complete hypocrisy that we attempt to govern as issue as we abed the Justice Department in participating in crimes against humanity towards victims. Sara, as a victim of such crimes has further been classified as such since her unfathomable sentence has been tolerated and upheld by the U.S. state government for nearly two decades.

It is the duty of morally sound people, media and news outlets to bring this case of extreme human rights violations to the spotlight. The power of the public and the media is crucial in creating awareness and in laying pressure on Governor Jerry Brown to grant Sara's her deserved freedom, plus an ideal 17 years of counseling, housing and reparations for wrongdoing.

Watch Sara Kruzan Tell Her Story Here

Sara's Story is a blood-boiling nightmare for anyone who believes in humanity, freedom, justice, and in this case, the right to a fair trial. As a photographer, I have created a photo collective freedom project for Sara called "Faces For Sara Kruzan", which will act as a photo collective petition to elicit reactions from the public and media that online petitions cannot.

The Full Story

When Sara Kruzan was 16, she was sentenced to Life without parole plus four years for theft in California. This is a sentence more extreme than Charles Manson, who has had 11 parole board hearings offered to him, with a twelfth upcoming in 2012].

Sara was only 11 years old when her 31-year old "pimp", nicknamed "G.G." targeted her as his victim and began "grooming" her by coercion. Sara was a runaway from her drug addicted, abusive mother, who was raising her alone prior to Sara's escape. Despite her grim circumstances, Sara had grown up as a bright, spirited honor student who was especially skilled in writing. Her promise for a good future was within her reach, but this changed when she met her rapist and "pimp" at age 11. From then until age 13, she was being set up for a life of rape, anguish, fear and then punishment by the government that had constantly failed to protect her.

Her promising life was not only lost during the abuse, but at the hands of her inhumane punishment as a criminal to lose her possibility of ever living a life in freedom. Sara was sent to die behind bars after all she had endured for an action that was committed either by threat and coercion of Sara's new rival pimp or extreme post-traumatic stress from all the rape and torture Sara had endured as a child.

As one of my petitioners stated, "we claim to be a civilized society but the criminal treatment of Sara and upheld political indifference proves otherwise" [9].

At age 13, G.G. then made the transition of "breaking" Sara in. He began raping Sara, threatened her and then after being fully degraded, he forced her into child "prostitution" better known as child sex slavery. Although Sara was out on the streets, "G.G." retained a tight grip on her life and mindset. She was not free to leave safely and had nowhere to go. She was also unable to go to police as it would jeopardize her life with retaliation from her "pimp", arrest by the police as a criminal, and because enough officers are, in fact, clients themselves.

After three years of sustaining classifiable crimes against humanity, Sara shot and killed "G.G.", real name George Gilbert Howard. Likely speculated to be the orders of a new trafficker and rival "pimp" - who supplied Sara with the weapon and instructions - Sara carried out the plan. Sara stole "G.G.'s" money, car and was arrested shortly after. Since the court ignored Sara's story and all relevant circumstances, Sara's judge sentenced her as a black and white pre-meditated murderer. It begs the question: was the judge's incompetency the result of prevailing attitudes towards prostitutes, the result of a payoff, or because he himself was a customer? Since the outcome certainly had nothing to do with "justice", it's hard to imagine his ultimate misuse of power was not a result of one of the above reasons.

Sara's body was sold for "G.G.'s" exclusive profit and she received no money from "G.G" for her "work" for 3 years of sexual abuse and torture. The amount that she "stole" does not remotely compare to the amount "G.G." stole by enslaving Sara's body for profit [had he ever been punished by authorities for committing such crimes].

Secondly, the pre-meditation component is key and was presented highly out-of-context at her trial. Sara was being trafficked by two pimps, and the second one was just as dangerous as the first. In the thug-operared world of these criminals, Sara's body was valuable but her life was meaningless. The laws at the time reinforced this to be true and punished victims as such. The pre-meditation could not be determined as a clear act of Sara's individual will.

The new, rival pimp allegedly threatened her to carry out the attack, provided her with the weapon and demanded that she kill Howard. Sara took the pistol and she carried out the mission in a pre-meditated fashion by acting friendly to Howard at first. According to the court, the child victim had "seduced" Howard and then took his life in a "cold-blooded" manner. By the mere language of the discriminatory and disgraceful judge, it is clear to see the outdated, biases of the judge towards female victims. A child "seducing" her 31-year old "pimp"? Reading about Sara's case will remind everyone that some people's lives are in the hands of completely immoral, criminal judges.

It is blatantly absurd to suggest that a highly traumatized sex slave would possibly turn down taking a gun to her tormenter. Either way the story goes, Sara was either forced to commit the murder from realistic threat of the other trafficker, from extreme trauma, enduring ignored crimes against humanity or did so to ensure she would not be victimized by Howard again. None of such extreme circumstances had anything to do with the horrific fate her future would hold.

Lastly, she was said to have murdered him in "cold blood". Okay, now it is time to back up from the abundance of lies used in court and revert to basic common sense.

Sara had endured hours, days, weeks, months... years of constant rape, coercion, endangerment, death threats and possible HIV infection. Sara's "pimp" was indirectly or directly an attempted murderer, a person who inflicted severe pain on children and held them captive for his own personal profit. Sara's mind had been, to some extent, clouded and plagued by "G.G.'s" grooming since she was eleven years old. Would any person in her position not be overcome with "cold blood" in the presence of such a vile criminal? The man who subjected you to a life of brutality with no reasonable method of escape?

Are we supposed to expect victims of the worst crimes to feel empathy and warmth during such an act, despite the motive or force behind it? Is it not fair to suggest that she was extremely traumatized during G'G's control and was acting in a form of self-defense? The weighing of these factors, along with basic common sense, were completely absent in Sara's pathetic excuse of a trial. One thing is certain as a result of Howard's death: he will will no longer be able to enslave and sell any more children as a free man in society.

Sara's sentence sent and continues to send the following message to victims: it is better to forsake your freedom, health and accept daily rape, disease exposure, torture and enslavement than possibly compromise the life of your trafficker. At the same time, the sentence reinforces that we value children and women as fair game for a trafficker to kill should they try to escape, talk to enforcement or refuse to engage with a customer, since they never get Life sentences or any at all. Traffickers do not hesitate to protect their highly profitable business if it means killing a few children or women who may put that profit at risk. Sex slave-holders represent inhumanity, not humanity. Humanity, on the other hand, is Sara Kruzan: a good-hearted victim who's potential is being wrongfully stolen from her every day.

Sara's story is a frightening misuse of government authority, reminding everyone what could happen to any victim in her position who fights to be free from the impossible trap of modern slavery. If a victim is to stand before a judge with no "moral scruples" - which is ironically what the judge preached Sara to be lacking - many could land themselves in her position. As her sentence illustrates, murder in self-defense doesn't exist. Justifiable homicide doesn't exist. Because, if this doesn't classify as either, then nothing does.

Sara's sentence ignored the key circumstances, evidence, sex-trafficking as a heinous crime, and the trauma of a child victim of slavery. Sara should have been defended on the grounds of justifiable homicide due to an indefinite life threat Howard posed to Sara.

Consider a common example often seen today. A man enters a woman's home with intent to injure or rape and she shoots him in self-defense and he dies. This is often regarded as an open and shut justifiable homicide case. Sara's case has the same groundwork and logical structure, except she was a child who actually was injured, raped, held as a slave then kills him to protect herself [from he and the rival pimp]. Is there actually a person who could argue that completed sex crimes, enslavement and danger outside of one's home is less justifiable homicide than a frightened, but unharmed woman inside her home?

Sara's sentence also suggested that her action was far worse than the crimes committed against her by Howard. There was never justice for Sara and the crimes she endured under Howard's ownership. The law was on Howard's side. The side of a person who profited off the suffering of countless women and children. He subjected Sara to over three years of rape, sale to pedophiles 12 hours each day, enduring constant threats of violence and inhumane demands. When Howard was alive selling children, he knew that he could never face a penalty even resembling that of Sara's. Howard was granted the luxury - from the grave and during his life - of being treated as the "victim". When this type of man is called a "victim" whose real victim is imprisoned to Life, the word loses every possible angle of its meaning.

Howard was the worst-of-the-worst in our society, the kind of person whom children and adults truly deserve protection from. Not the Sara Kruzans, who are children with no prior record, sustain abuse growing up, sold for profit by an adult man and who was only a threat to her captor. Nonetheless, this is the reality, and a portion of our tax dollars are supporting this woman's inhumane life behind bars. Meanwhile, convicted sex offenders live in freedom with long lists of horrific offenses known to the courts and the public.

Sara's tolerated sentence also represents a sickening national hypocrisy given the anti-trafficking claims the U.S. Government is now stating to victims. Now, there are newly enacted protection acts and laws being implemented with promises of leniency and safety for sex trafficking victims. The vast difference in the trafficking laws in the past ten years to now [and even the past 2-3 years] has been slow but evident. The Federal government is also attempting - with an dismal budget - to educate officials and the public on how escape is nearly impossible and highly dangerous to victims, despite the appearance of an open door. While none of this would have made difference to Sara's morally or politically corrupt judge, it should be information that is now used to further benefit her immediate release in 2011.

It is time to give Sara Kruzan a voice of support that she so greatly deserves. The words we stand for as a nation mean nothing every passing moment that she is in a prison cell that a true criminal ought to be in. From childhood abuse from her single, drug addicted mother to a life of being raped for profit and then sent to prison for life, Sara is also a poster child for the words "victim", "injustice", but mostly "inhumane treatment" in every chapter of her life. The way her life has been treated shows the level of disgrace and evil that humanity can reach. While most of us know that the justice system often fails to provide justice, locking up a child sex slavery victim in her circumstances is the most inhumane, criminal sentence one could possibly imagine after surviving hell. Not only did Sara survive years of such crimes, but then she also had to face her fate of living out the rest of her life in prison. Slavery followed by slavery.

Sara has become a model citizen that many living in freedom would benefit from. Sara was named "woman of the year" in prison, an advocate for other inmates, college-educated, young author, and a true warrior survivor.Sara is greatly needed in our society. Abused children and victims of trafficking need her. Children without guidance need her. The coalitions fighting human trafficking need her experience, wisdom and expertise. Her passionate desire to create a better society is being completely wasted behind bars. It is time to let her breathe our air and replace her cell with someone who actually presents a serious threat to our society. The job of our DOJ is to take the Howards off the street and let the good people like Sara have her human rights restored.

Along with the incentive to reduce incarceration rates in California, Sara should be the number one candidate to lower that number. Sara deserves to have a real life. She deserves your exclusive attention. We all deserve to sleep knowing she is free from this barbaric sentence and that we were not silent bystanders to an enslaved rape victim's living nightmare.

Article by Elizabeth O'Hara,
San Francisco, August 3, 2011
Participate in "Faces For Sara Kruzan"

References & Citations: Email for full article citations. [Press Only]
Footnote: The words "pimp", "prostitute" and "prostitution" are used in quotations as they do not appropriately describe human traffickers, victims and sex slavery from my point of view.

WYSIWYG editor