For Sarah Kruzan, childhood was full of pain and abuse. She was sexually molested and prostituted by a family friend for years…until the day she shot him dead.
“You don’t realize what’s happening,” said Kruzan “A child should never have to be in those positions.”
When she was 17 years old, Sara Kruzan was sentenced to life in prison without parole. She had been convicted of killing the man who had sexually abused and sex trafficked her for more than five years.
But during her trial, details of the abuse were not allowed in court.
“I had a two-and-a-half-day trial.”
In a video interview, Kruzan explained that during the trial the judge would not allow evidence of the abuse as part of her defense.
“I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, plus four years,” said Kruzan.
She ended up serving nearly 20 years in prison before the governor of California granted her release.
Kruzan’s story is similar to the story of Cyntoia Brown, another teenaged victim of sex trafficking who killed a man who paid her for sex when she was 16. Her case made national news with support from celebrities like Kim Kardashian. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam granted Brown clemency shortly before leaving office. She is scheduled to get out of prison August 7 after spending 15 years behind bars.
Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman heard about Sarah Kruzan’s story and said, “[It] was a very compelling story. I don’t think justice was done in her case.”
Westerman decided to take action. He recently filed a bill giving federal judges more flexibility to consider previous abuse when sentencing juvenile defendants.
“They shouldn’t be punished again by the justice system when they’re using whatever is at their means to get away from the person who is abusing them,” said Westerman.
He also filed bills to make juveniles ineligible for a sentence of life without parole, and allow judges to reduce mandatory minimum sentences in cases like Kruzan’s. One of the bills carves out a specific consideration for victims of human trafficking who kill their captors.
“I felt really terrible about myself for a long time,” said Kruzan.
She has now found her voice. She works as an advocate for parolees, helping them navigate their new lives on the outside.
Westerman named one of his bills Sara’s Law in honor of Sara Kruzan. It only applies in federal courtrooms, which accounts for just a small portion of juvenile cases.
Supporters hope it serves as an example for states to follow.