AB-124: Justice for Survivors
AB 124 (Kamlager) would give courts a holistic view of survivors and provide opportunities to consider a survivor’s age, history of trauma, and experiences throughout the legal process.
Expand Affirmative Defense
Human trafficking survivors who commit a nonviolent offense can assert an affirmative defense, allowing them to present facts which either justify or excuse their actions. AB 124 would expand affirmative defense to encompass survivors of intimate partner violence or sexual violence who are coerced to commit a nonviolent offense as a direct result of being a victim and had a reasonable fear of harm. It also expands affirmative defense for survivors of human trafficking to also apply to charges of trafficking offenses.
Meaningfully engage the impact of trauma at sentencing
AB 124 underscores the devastating impact of victimization. Recognizing the enduring toll of trauma that is felt by survivors, AB 124 creates a presumption that judges should start at the lower term when sentencing a survivor to prison.
Consider Trauma when deciding Whether To Reduce a Survivor’s Sentence
AB 124 allows courts to reduce sentencing post-conviction after considering survivor’s experiences of childhood trauma, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and human trafficking as contributing factors in the commission of the offense.
Vacatur laws – which repeal previous arrests, charges or convictions – can help recognize that survivors were not responsible for the criminalized activity they were forced to engage in. California’s current vacatur process is complicated and barriers can prevent survivors from accessing employment & housing. AB 124 expands the vacatur law to allow survivors of human trafficking, intimate partner violence, and/or sexual violence to petition the court to vacate convictions and expunge arrests for nonviolent offenses related to their experiences of violence.
AB 124 creates meaningful pathways to justice
This bill would impact survivors who are facing, serving, or have served prison time.
Nothing about this bill requires leniency or a not guilty verdict.
The provisions in AB 124 are all about fact finding. It is ultimately up to a jury or judge to consider a survivor’s experiences and the facts of the case to determine whether mitigation is appropriate.
AB-124 is important to me because it addresses one of the many root causes of the over criminalization of Black women in our criminal legal system. The system has a tendency of exclusively focusing on singular acts, rather than on the actions leading up to the specific event.
I was convicted and sentenced to 15 years to life for surviving an abusive relationship, and held fully liable for a murder I did not personally commit. In my abusive relationship I suffered sexual assault, physical and emotional violence, and human trafficking (forced to commit a crime of embezzlement, under coercion and duress, which led to a federal conviction). Had AB-124 been enacted during this time, I wouldn’t have had to endure further abuse by the system, more specifically the destruction of my mother-child relationship with my child, robbed of future reproductive opportunities due to extreme sentencing and being incarcerated during my childbearing years. Had the judge had discretion to consider all that I had experienced leading up to that tragedy, I would have had the opportunity to better identify, address, and heal my trauma. And, I would have been back with my family and community sooner rather than later.
I personally think that AB-124 would provide context for the different experiences that might lead someone to commit a crime in the first place.
I suffered a lot of childhood trauma. I was mentally abused by my stepfather and molested by him at least twice at the age of 8. From the age of 9 to 17, I watched him beat on my mom everyday. I have seen her pistol-whipped and I have heard her being raped by him. I had to start jumping in just to help her at times, and I missed a lot of high school classes because I didn’t want to leave her at home alone with him. I was constantly told I would never be anything, and called stupid and “bitch”.
My stepfather ended up going to a rehab center for a while and everything was good with me and my mom. And then she said he was coming home and that is when I caught my case. I felt like my opinion didn’t matter, and I wanted to feel loved and accepted by my friends, so I made a lot of choices without thinking straight or even considering the consequences of my actions.
AB124 is important to me because I understand the dynamics between the trafficked woman and her trafficker and it makes me really sad to know there are women out there suffering who didn’t ask to be put into these situations – no one was born to be a prostitute – she does not have the option to say no but still has a criminal history she has to carry around with her. Women in this position have been systematically beaten down over time and objectified intentionally so that they feel less and less like actual humans, yet this process still happens quickly. Once a woman feels ruined, such as a pimp making all his friends rape her to ‘break her in’, she loses a lot of dignity and autonomy and relies, paradoxically, on the person who still ‘sees her worth’ which is of course a lie, but she doesn’t see it at the time when she’s in the midst of it. The loss of her liberty is physical as well as mental but no actual shackles are needed, her bondage is within her mind placed there by her trafficker. It is an extremely pervasive mentality and traffickers are very good at breaking women down like this. Most people still do not understand the interplay of that power differential, she is forced and coerced and tricked into doing whatever her pimp deems necessary. I’ve known a lot of trafficked women as well as my own experiences in it, and the misconception is that a woman can just leave or sneak away, and oftentimes it is more so an issue of a deprivation of her own mind as well as physical inability to leave the situation. Depending on what kind of activities the pimp is involved in, he may recruit the girl to take part in these other things as well, it may not only be commercial sex. People need to update their ideas of what a pimp is in their mind – there are so many different categories of pimps with their own individualized behavior that it’s really a problematic schematic to only know about the ‘guerilla’ or ‘romeo’ pimp – there are so many different kinds of traffickers that no one in the entire world can categorize them all and it does not look like what we see in movies. They are chameleons who change into what that they intuit a particular woman’s psychology needs or wants. I have known of girls whose traffickers made them commit other crimes unrelated to sex, and maybe the sex is just the means and opportunity to facilitate the other crime. The trafficked woman is under duress and absolutely cannot say no to her trafficker if she doesn’t want to be beaten or killed and she is just trying to survive. Please try to understand that women handle these kinds of situations differently; it’s called ‘tend and befriend’, which is a play on words to illustrate how the fight or flight response is different for women. If a woman cannot run away or leave her trafficker (flight) and she is not physically strong enough to fight him and he has access to weapons and regularly beats her, she knows he will follow through with his violence so she appears on the outside to ‘tend and befriend’ because she has no other option. She means nothing to him, it’s only her performance that matters. He has a reputation to worry about and he doesn’t want to look soft so he will keep escalating his behavior against her. Behavior never deescalates in these situations, it only gets worse. Sometimes it seems to me that some people within the court/ legal system or the general public do not understand the extent that a trafficked woman has suffered so much so that she only is truly believed to be a victim if she is actually murdered and the trafficker follows through with his threats; up until that point, the common belief seems to be that she must like it there with him if she is there, and so she is as complicit as he is. This is totally false, and it’s something no one can understand if they have not been in that situation. Women do what they can to survive and the trafficker knows that he is putting her in a dangerous situation so that he can hopefully escape or lessen his involvement in it although he set up the whole activity. Traffickers want to make money by any means necessary – there is obviously no regard for the law since there is no regard for her life. This is all done by design. My heart hurts for the women out there I know were and are forced to do things that they didn’t want to do in order to survive a predatory man who just wants to benefit off of her labor and her very life and safety and endanger her for their own benefit.
I ran away when I was 12 years old. I was hustling at a very young age trying to survive. I remember walking by myself trying to network and get people to buy my product when three men approached me and asked me what I was doing. One of the guys told me that there was going to be a party in a hotel down the street. I was inexperienced and gullible, and I got excited. I had no idea what was in store for me when I got to room 230 at HJ that night. When I got there the man that told me about the party opened the door and gave me the creepiest evil grin I had ever seen. He grabbed me by my shirt and snatched me into the room. He beat me, stripped me, and told two girls, K. and J., to show me the ropes. They dressed me in revealing clothes and I immediately felt ashamed of myself. They told me to come walk with them. I wasn’t allowed to have a phone and they followed me everywhere. K. would flag a guy down, give him a price, and when the trick agreed to pay, she put me in the back seat and hopped in the front. When we got to the secluded location she got the trick ready for me with oral and then watched the dude hump me. I just lay there numb, feeling defeated, used, and worthless. This happened until the man’s quota was met to his satisfaction. By the time I made it back to him I felt like I had no soul. The man looked at K. and smiled that weird ass grin and said “thank you” and peeled off a couple hundred dollars that I apparently just made for this piece of shit. Then he turned to me and said “$999 is what I better see every night. If I don’t get it, you’ll see what happens.” Then he put crystal up my nose.
Every day I went out like a slave: imprisoned by a man I didn’t even know, going places I’m not familiar with, sleeping with nasty perverted men, and reporting back. The drugs numbed the pain only a little. Anytime I tried to sleep he’d put crystal up my nose and hit me in my chest so I’d gasp for air. Every night I had to be prepared to let him crawl on top of me. If I refused or gave him a hard time he would force it and would rip me open. So I might as well just comply right? It was less painful that way. One night I only made $300 and when I got back he busted me in my mouth, broke two of my ribs, cracked my cheekbone, and put me in a seizure from slamming my head too hard. I was scared for my life.
I eventually got sent to juvie — after all, I was only 12. At juvie, I thought I was free. Couldn’t nothing get me in there. I got to eat, sleep, and not have to worry about going out and letting men violate me. I was safe. At least I thought I was. When I got out he immediately put a $999 bounty on my head from the money I made from men violating and raping me. From 12-15 I was stuck in the endless cycle in and out of jail and trying to survive with this evil man. Now I’m just trying to live right.
As a survivor of CSEC and familial trafficking, I believe it is extremely important to protect survivors. No one ever protected me, and we must protect those who are being victimized.
I was trafficked by my father starting at age 2. No one in my family ever helped me, in fact, they only turned their back on me. My father, the trafficker, and the buyers beat me, and nearly took my life on numerous occasions. Eventually I had to run across the country and I was on my own and have been ever since. If first responders including lawyers had been trauma informed, they could have helped me instead of turning their back on me. I was told no one could help, no one believed me, and I was also told that he had to try to kill me again for anyone to assist me. I eventually went to school but unfortunately I ended up homeless because I slipped through the cracks over and over again. I never looked like someone who seemed like the right type of victim/ survivor and therefore no one would help me.
My name is Corene De La Cruz. I am currently incarcerated at the California Institution for Women (CIW) in Corona, CA. What brought me to my incarceration 11 years ago was a toxic, abusive, and unhealthy long-term relationship, where I was unfortunately too blinded to fully understand the severity of my circumstances. One of the effects of the violence I experienced was that my ex-boyfriend convinced me to believe, year after year, that the abuse was solely my fault. Prior to my arrest I had never been involved in the criminal system, nor did I struggle to live a productive life. My life was forever changed in a blink of an eye. I only wish I knew then what I know today.
AB- 124 is extremely important to me because it can create a healthier alternative by making sure to identify the signs of Domestic Violence before sentencing and more traumatic, life changing events. I hope it will create a pathway for us survivors to receive the proper tools and coping skills we need to overcome Domestic Violence, instead of being punished extensively with a harsh sentence, including high term-consecutive enhancements added on top of a base term.
I strongly support AB 124 because it allows someone like myself to obtain a well-deserved Second Chance in society, rather than being severely punished and completely forgotten. I would like to use my personal experiences, both from being a Domestic Violence survivor and by being exposed to a broken judicial system, to bring awareness to other victims before it’s too late, and by being able to assist and deter them from following a similar path. I am a living example of how one’s life can be forever altered due to a lack of interest and understanding by the justice system about the violence I suffered that resulted in my suicidal state at the time. I had no idea the justice system could impact one’s future and FREEDOM in this way, without considering context, including how I was victimized. I will be praying for your full support to pass this bill, so other survivors like myself who have slipped through the cracks can be given a fair opportunity at REDEMPTION and reunification with our families.
AB- 124 is important to me because I believe I am the perfect candidate for this bill.I have childhood trauma, and I was experiencing domestic violence at the time of my crime.
As a child I was molested, raped, sold for drugs by a family member, kidnapped, and my mother was stabbed several times and I watched her bleed and take her last breath at the age of 11.
As an adult, I ended up in one violent relationship after another. At my trial, they made such a big deal about how I had responded in this situation/ case. And when my attorney wanted to lift up my childhood trauma, he was denied the opportunity.
AB124 is important to me because the covered evidentiary details of intimate partner battering and violence being perpetrated against me during the unintentional offense, encompasses my entire experience. This legislation refuses to allow the 2011 Los Angeles head DA Steve Cooley to continue using my tragedy as a pawn in a political game he used to win a bid for reelection, and hold ADA Natalie Adomian accountable for blatantly hiding then ignoring exculpatory evidence like a surveillance video and a 911 tape that proves I was the actual victim while Adomian, LA County judge Robert Perry, and LA Sheriff’s Detective Aguilera spun the evidence to make me look like the abuser, thus undermining the crux of my defense as a victim of domestic violence with severe PTSD. Now I am a healed extraordinary model prisoner against all odds, my surrogates CDCr Secretary Kathleen Allison, CCWF warden Michael Pallares, judge Robert Perry and others refuse to acknowledge my Black excellence and instead place obstacles in my path that disenfranchise and further marginalize me. I shouldn’t have to rely on protestors at the Secretary’s doorstep, or exposing my trial judge and warden in the international news to get justice.
I am now a falsely incarcerated survivor of domestic violence housed in the Central California Women’s Facility. If AB124 was appropriately used in my case without racism, bias, gender discrimination, or an agenda to keep an uppity negro woman in her place, AB124 could have served as my “affirmative defense” and the false charges would have been dropped with prejudice. It is never too late to do the right thing.
Sign the petition to Commute Tomiekia: http://bit.ly/CommuteTomiekia!
AB-124 is important to me because I believe it will give me the opportunity to get a fair chance to be heard and get a fair sentence. I am a survivor of domestic and sexual violence of my victim in my case. I was not allowed to provide the judge or jury the evidence that showed the victim was abusing me and had done the same thing to his ex-wife, who was going to testify on my behalf. It would have showed how we were both survivors of the trauma he put us through. I believe if this bill is passed I could have a chance for the judge and jury to see the impact of the trauma at the time of my crime caused by the victim in my case.
I was charged with murder in the first degree that resulted in a LWOP sentence. I was trying to escape the violence and abuse caused at the hands of Mr. Khelawan. He stalked me and abused me mentally, sexually, and physically, and threatened the lives of my daughter and family as well as myself. He said if I would not remain in a relationship with him he was going to kill us all. He hit me, drugged, and raped me, tried to kill us while I was driving 65 mph by pulling the keys out the ignition of the car. I managed to come to a safe stop on the freeway. There are many other things he did to me and I was in fear of my life and that of my family. I was only trying to get away from him and he would not take no for an answer. I moved away only for him to drive hours to come fight with me and stalk me. I was driving my car to meet up with him at his command and to end the relationship for good. He tried to crash into me and wreck my car. My ex-codefendant shot at him only because we thought he had a gun pointed at us and he said he was going to kill us.
Support AB 124!
Call Governor Newsom’s Office at (916) 445-2841
You can use this script:
Hello, my name is [NAME] and I’m from [CITY/ORGANIZATION]. I’m calling to urge Governor Newsom to sign two bills into law: AB 124, to support survivors of violence, and AB 333, to reduce the harm of racist gang enhancement laws. Thank you!