Brian Turner via Flickr

Pieper Lewis, a victim of sex trafficking, stabbed her abuser, 37-year-old Zachary Brooks, more than 30 times, killing him. While most of the general public believes her actions were justified, 30 stab wounds are not typical in a self-defense case. In many states across the United States, sex trafficking victims are granted a level of immunity for criminal charges, however, Iowa is not one of them. Piper, as a result of stabbing Zachary Brooks, the man who sex trafficked her, was sentenced by a judge to be on 5 years of closely supervised probation, as well as pay $150,000 in restitution to Brooks’ family. Piper Lewis, following the 2020 stabbing, was initially charged with first-degree murder, and was only 15 years old during the time of the stabbing and had gone through the traumatic experience of being sex trafficked.

Last year, Lewis pleaded to involuntary manslaughter and willful injury, both of which were punishable by up to 10 years in prison. However, Polk County District Judge David Porter deferred those prison sentences on Tuesday, meaning Lewis could serve 20 years if she violates her probation. Lewis, who was 15 when she stabbed Brooks in a Des Moines apartment, had run away from home to escape her abusive adoptive mother. She was sleeping in the halls of an apartment building when Christopher Brown, 28, took her in and began trafficking her to other men for sex, according to officials.

Among those men was Brooks, who Lewis said raped her multiple times before she killed him. She recalled being forced at knife point to go to his apartment for sex. After Brooks raped her for what would end up being the last time, Lewis grabbed a knife off a bedside table and stabbed him. Neither police nor prosecutors dispute whether Lewis was trafficked and assaulted, but prosecutors allege that Brooks was not an immediate threat because he was asleep when he was stabbed.

Iowa is not among the dozens of states with a safe harbor law that gives trafficking victims some level of criminal immunity. Lewis will be transported to a halfway house in Des Moines and will wear a GPS tracking device to ensure she does not fall “back into the lifestyle that you thus far left,” Porter said. She will also have to complete 200 hours of community service. Iowa does have an affirmative defense law that offers some leeway to victims of a crime if the victim committed the violation “under compulsion by another’s threat of serious injury, provided that the defendant reasonably believed that such injury was imminent.” However, prosecutors argued that Lewis waived that affirmative defense when she pleaded guilty to manslaughter and willful injury.

Pieper Lewis having to be disciplined under the law, along with paying $150,000 to the family of Brooks is something that most find despicable, and rightfully so. Iowa, along with every state should be lenient on a 15-year-old minor who was sex trafficked, and if the case of Lewis doesn’t deserve leniency then no case does. Lewis, while in juvenile lockup and not granted the ability to communicate with friends and family, earned her GED.



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