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Teen human trafficking victim ordered to pay $222k after killing accused rapist

A teenager who was a victim of human trafficking has been ordered to pay US$150,000 (A$222,000) to the family of her accused rapist, who she killed when she was just 15.

Pieper Lewis, now 17, plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and wilful injury last year after she killed 37-year-old Zachary Brooks in 2020. Both charges were punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The teen, from the US state of Iowa, was sentenced on Tuesday to five years of closely supervised probation.

US teen Pieper Lewis human trafficking victim in court
US teen Pieper Lewis, a human trafficking victim, stabbed and killed a 37-year-old man who she said raped her repeatedly. Source AP

While Lewis escaped a 20-year term, she was ordered to pay restitution to the man’s family, and if she violates any portion of her probation, she could be sent to prison.

"This court is presented with no other option," Polk County District judge David M. Porter said, noting the restitution is mandatory under Iowa law that has been upheld by the Iowa Supreme Court.

Teen stabbed rapist in 'fit of rage'

Lewis was 15 when she stabbed Brooks more than 30 times in an apartment in the state's capital, Des Moines.

Officials have said she was a runaway who was escaping an abusive life with her adopted mother and was sleeping in the hallways when a 28-year-old man took her in before forcibly trafficking her to other men for sex.

Lewis said one of those men was Brooks and that he had raped her multiple times in the weeks before his death.

She recounted being forced at knifepoint by the 28-year-old man to go with Brooks to his apartment for sex.

She told officials that after Brooks had raped her yet again, she grabbed a knife from a bedside table and stabbed him in a fit of rage.

Police and prosecutors have not disputed that Lewis was sexually assaulted and trafficked. But prosecutors have argued that Brooks was asleep at the time he was stabbed and not an immediate danger to Lewis.

Iowa is not among the dozens of states that have a so-called safe harbour law that gives trafficking victims at least some level of criminal immunity.

Prosecutors took issue with Lewis calling herself a victim in the case and said she failed to take responsibility for stabbing Brooks and "leaving his kids without a father."

The judge peppered Lewis with repeated requests to explain what poor choices she made that led up to Brooks’ stabbing and expressed concern that she sometimes did not want to follow rules set for her in juvenile lockup.

"The next five years of your life will be full of rules you disagree with, I’m sure of it," Porter said. He later added, "This is the second chance that you’ve asked for. You don’t get a third."

Lewis, who earned her GED while being held in juvenile detention, acknowledged in a statement prior to her sentencing that she struggled with the structure of her detention, including "why I was treated like fragile glass" or wasn’t allowed to communicate with her friends or family.

US teen Pieper Lewis human trafficking victim in court with attorney
She plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and wilful injury and narrowly escaped a 20-year jail sentence. Source: AP

"My spirit has been burned, but still glows through the flames," she read from a statement she had prepared. "Hear me roar, see me glow, and watch me grow."

"I am a survivor," she added.

The Associated Press does not typically name victims of sexual assault, but Lewis agreed to have her name used previously in stories about her case.

Bill to create a 'safe harbour law for trafficking victims' stalled

Karl Schilling with the Iowa Organization for Victim Assistance said a bill to create a safe harbour law for trafficking victims passed the Iowa House earlier this year but stalled in the Senate under concerns from law enforcement groups that it was too broad.

"There was a working group established to iron out the issues," Shilling said. "Hopefully it will be taken up again next year."

Iowa does have an affirmative defence law that gives some leeway to victims of 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."

Prosecutors argued Tuesday that Lewis waived that affirmative defence when she pleaded guilty to manslaughter and wilful injury.

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