Celebrating A Victory for Child Sex Trafficking Victim Chrystul Kizer 

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July 14, 2022

Celebrating A Victory for Child Sex Trafficking Victim Chrystul Kizer 

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court last week handed down a ruling interpreting an important law for criminalized sex trafficking survivors. Chrystul Kizer is a child sex trafficking victim who killed her trafficker in self-defense at the age of 17. She first met him at age 16, through the now shutdown website Backpage which he used to traffick her. Despite an active investigation by local police involving extensive evidence that he was trafficking Chrystul and other Black girls and using them to create child sexual abuse images, he was never arrested. In June 2018, Chrystul shot and killed her trafficker in self defense, in the midst of a struggle, resulting in a first degree intentional homicide charge.  

The court’s decision reflects an understanding of the profoundly harmful realities of sex trafficking victimization – another aspect of gender-based violence that Legal Momentum’s National Judicial Education Program has worked for decades to help courts grasp. The decision affirmed the intention of Wisconsin’s “safe harbor” law to operate as a “complete defense” to first-degree intentional homicide, and any offense for which a criminalized survivor can show the offense was “committed as a direct result of trafficking.” Chrystul’s legal fight does not end here. But as a result of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s ruling, she will be permitted to show evidence of the connection between her victimization and the crimes of which she is accused. And if she is successful, she could be acquitted of the charges against her. 

Legal Momentum, along with Harvard Law School’s Gender Violence Program, pro bono counsel Boies Schiller Flexner LLP and pro bono Wisconsin firm Foley & Lardner, and with the support of nine anti-gender-based violence organizations, filed amicus briefs in support of Chrystul throughout her appeals. Legal Momentum provided the appellate courts with expert insight into the unique trauma of sex trafficking and its impact on victims’ cognitive functioning, especially child victims, in order to explain why and how this statute was drafted to fully protect victims of sex trafficking. 

An increasing number of states have adopted “safe harbor” affirmative defense statutes for trafficking victims, but most are limited to certain types of crimes, such as prostitution or drugs. Wisconsin’s open-ended affirmative defense statute, and its Supreme Court’s decision in Wisconsin v. Chyrstul Kizer, are important for Chrystul, for all Wisconsin trafficking survivors, and as a model for other states to emulate.  Click here to read Legal Momentum’s amicus brief.