Abused California children should not be sent to prison

In summary

A bill, Senate Bill 545, would prevent victims of children in foster care or the child welfare system from being tried as adults if they commit a violent crime against their abuser. Two survivors say the law is an overdue recognition of a systemic failure to protect vulnerable youth.

Guest commentary written by

Jarrett Harper

Jarrett Harper is the founder of Better Days, a non-profit organization focused on ending the pipeline from foster care to prisons. He is an ambassador for Represent Justice’s “Just Mercy” campaign.

Sarah Kruzan

Sara Kruzan is a fellow at Human Rights for Kids. She was a founding member of Incarcerated Children Advocacy Network and a leading advocate for Proposition 35 in 2012.

As survivors of human trafficking and sexual abuse in our childhood, we were besieged by adults with sinister intent. They exploited our vulnerabilities as children in the foster care and child welfare systems.

All we ever wanted is what all children want: care, love and belonging. Child predators know that, so they seek out children with a history of neglect and trauma. That made us easy targets. We have endured unspeakable and repeated acts of abuse and exploitation by our abusers and traffickers.

Later, when we were children, we both killed our abusers for the harm they had done to us and to make sure they could not harm any other child. We were both tried as adults and sentenced to life without parole, sentenced to die in prison.

While we did our best to hope that justice would eventually be served, neither of us had any expectations of leaving prison alive. Thanks to the efforts of attorneys, lawyers, multiple California governors – and our determination to never lose faith – our sentences were commuted.

Today we are both parents. Because of our original prison sentences, this is an opportunity we never thought we would get. We’re working with Senator Susan Rubio, herself a domestic violence survivor, to make sure what happened to us doesn’t happen to other kids in California.

Unfortunately, we see a similar pattern over and over again across the country. Children who have been abandoned by multiple systems designed to protect them are vulnerable to human trafficking and abuse. Most of these children have already experienced trauma at home.

So it should come as no surprise that some of these kids are taking action against the adults who hunted them. Self-defense laws do not provide adequate protection when they commit violence against their abusers. Prosecutors often argue that because these children have planned their actions, or because they do not perceive the threat to the children as “threatening”, self-defense protections do not apply.

Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story

State Senate, District 22 (West Covina)

State Senate, District 22 (West Covina)

How she voted 2021-2022


District 22 Demographics

Voter registration





No party


Campaign Contributions

At least Sen. Susan Rubio took
of the Energy and natural resources
sector since she was elected to the legislature. That represents
of her total campaign contributions.

Here’s what happened in both of our cases.

The California legislature has the power to right these wrongs. Senate Bill 545 will prevent children from being tried in an adult court when they commit acts of violence against their abusers. If this legislation becomes law, child victims will not be sentenced to long prison terms, but will remain in the juvenile system to receive treatment and services.

Simply put, this bill recognizes that children trapped in situations of sexual abuse or exploitation may respond with violence against their abusers. The blame should not be placed solely on the child victim, and adult prisons are certainly no place for them.

This legislation recognizes that we have failed these children by allowing them to fall prey to bad people.

As the great Nelson Mandela once said, “There can be no greater revelation of the soul of a society than the way it treats our children.” This revelation becomes even clearer when we talk about vulnerable children who are victims of sexual abuse and trafficking. When you think of the children affected by this legislation, don’t think of them as someone else’s children, but us children.

Leave a Comment