As a teenage runaway being threatened by a violent older pimp, Hope Zeferjohn should have been saved when Topeka police arrested the man for human trafficking. Instead, she was cast as a conspirator in his schemes and now faces more than a decade in prison.
The situation stems from their 2015 attempt to recruit a 14-year-old girl to live and work with them. Zeferjohn met the younger girl earlier that year at a church youth camp and they became friends. But the girl told Zeferjohn and Anthony "Angel" Long, then 26, that she wasn't interested in their arrangement and then told her parents, who called the police.
The 14-year-old never met Long in person—contact was confined to Facebook chats and text messages. She was never abducted or physically harmed, though Long did threaten her, police say. The girl was never advertised for commercial sex, nor did she ever engage in prostitution. And even Long, who accepted a plea deal in February, was only convicted of attempted aggravated human trafficking, a third-degree felony. Yet somehow Zeferjohn—someone who was unquestionably underage at the time of the alleged offenses and is, by multiple accounts, an abuse and exploitation victim herself—has wound up on the hook for aggravated human trafficking, a felony in the first degree.
'She Tried to Get Away From Him Everytime She Came Home'
"By no means do I condone any wrongs Hopie has done in this mess—she was 17, and has a good head on her shoulders for the most part," Stacey Duckworth, Hope's Godmother, tells me. But "she doesn't deserve the treatment she's getting, and had she had parents that were more involved and financially stable, I don't think she'd be facing the charges she is."
Hope was just 15 when she first met Long, who was nearly 10 years older than her. Long had a reputation around the area as something of a creep and a criminal record to back it up: domestic battery and violating a protective order against his ex-girlfriend in 2013, threatening to assault a child-services worker in 2015. Still, Long was initially a welcome guest around the Zeferjohn's Topeka, Kansas, home. Hope's parents were busy with four younger children and, according to relatives and neighbors, never ones to provide a lot of parental supervision anyway.
"Angel groomed this family for a long time," says Duckworth. "He used to come into the home as a friend of the oldest daughter. There's five girls in this family." In August 2014, when Heather and Hope were both pregnant, the "family suspected Angel was father to both," though DNA testing later ruled it out for Hope's son. That same summer, 18-year-old Heather moved out into her own apartment and the rest of the kids were removed from the Zeferjohn home by the state's Child Protective Services (CPS). Three of the younger children went to live with Duckworth, and Hope was placed with a family in nearby Salina.
Hope's CPS case managers also managed to get a restraining order against Long.
According to Duckworth, Hope "was doing awesome in her foster home. Her baby came, she graduated [high] school, started a job, took college classes. Bought a car."
By mid-2015, most of the Zeferjohn children had been reunited with their parents (earning them a photo with Gov. Sam Brownback in a Department of Children and Families press release). Hope continued "excelling," in foster care, says Duckworth. "Then Angel found her."
In violation of the protective order, Long got in contact with Zeferjohn, and relatives say he used more than just sweet talk to persuade Hope back to him. "He beat her, made her miscarry 2 different times," Heather Zeferjohn, 19, wrote last week on Facebook in response to commenters who said Hope deserved harsh criminal treatment. According to Heather, Long told Hope "her son would die if she didn't do what [Long] said" and "held her at gun point when she didn't do what he told her to."
Hope "herself was sex trafficked," Heather wrote.
In another Facebook comment, Heather claims that Long "threatend to blow my house up with all my kids in it he did it all off her fb so none of it would come back to him. But i wasnt dumb she would never talk like that to me. She tried to get away from him everytime she came home someone he knew was always with her she was never alone."
A spokesperson from the Topeka Police Department declined to comment on the case and said full case files were sealed. (I was only able to access docket records) The Shawnee County District Attorney's Office did not return my request for comment.
Victimizing the Victims
As of April 2017, Zeferjohn had been imprisoned in some part of the Shawnee County Jail—first the juvenile detention ward, then grown-up jail after she'd turned 18 the prior August—since December 2015. Zeferjohn was transferred to Shawnee County custody after being picked up by police in New York, where she had run away to with Long, leaving her son in the care of her parents. On Facebook, Hope's father, Terry Zeferjohn, urged friends to call the police if they saw his runaway daughter, cautioning that Long was armed and a "drug dealer" who "will kill anyone [who] gets in his ways."
Duckworth says Hope "ran away to ny to 'work' for [Long], I guess." But how willingly the teenager went along is far from clear. Long repeatedly threatened Hope and her family, according to Duckworth. He "threatened her baby and had beaten her on more then one occasion."
Meanwhile, the "child sex trafficking" of which Zeferjohn is accused is entirely confined to online chatter. This girl was never physically abused by Long (or Zeferjohn), never had sex for money at his behalf, never felt he was someone she couldn't escape. According to police, Long described sexual activity he wanted the girl to engage in with him and offered to "train" her to please other men. He proposed that she come live with him, Zeferjohn, and Zeferjohn's baby as a "family" prostitution operation. And that's as far as things went.
Thankfully, this girl reported Long's antics to her parents before he could actually hurt her or other young women. And the girl had parents who found his behavior troubling enough to alert police—perhaps in part out of fear for not just their own daughter's safety but that of the Hope and her infant son, too. Yet rather than treat Zeferjohn like a second victim, Kansas officials have targeted her as much as Long for criminal prosecution.
In January 2016, Long was charged with 18 felonies, including aggravated human trafficking, and two misdemeanors, for child endangerment and contributing to child misconduct or deprivation. The following June, Zeferjohn was charged with nine felonies, including aggravated human trafficking, conspiracy to commit rape, conspiracy to commit aggravated sodomy, aggravated intimidation, indecent solicitation of a child, electronic solicitation of a child, and several counts of making a criminal threat, plus two misdemeanors. Aggravated human trafficking alone can come with a penalty equivalent to second-degree murder.
Is this justice? In Zeferjohn, we have someone who is very likely the victim of a domestic abuser or an abusive pimp, depending on how you look at it, and unquestionably a "sex trafficking victim" under federal law. It requires someone to be engaging in prostitution that's been forced/coerced or to be engaging in prostitution while under 18, no matter the circumstances, and Zeferjohn meets one if not both criteria. The young woman has already lost custody of her child, and will have to register as a sex offender.
On March 31, she pled guilty to one count of aggravated human trafficking, in exchange for the other charges against her being dropped. Prosecutors recommended that she be sentenced to five years and 11 months in prison, but the judge is free to ignore this recommendation at the July 7 sentencing. Eleven to 13 years is the typical sentencing range.
Long accepted a plea deal in February, copping to one count of attempted aggravated human trafficking, four counts of felony child sexual exploitation (for having nude pictures of unidentified teen girls on his cell phone), and one felony count each of indecent solicitation of a child and electronic solicitation. On April 7, a Shawnee County judge sentenced him to 35 years in prison. Local news channel WIBW described Zeferjohn as Long's 18-year-old "accomplice" in a venture that involved providing "several young girls between the ages of 14 to 16" with "food and shelter in exchange for sexual requests." It failed to mention that Zeferjahn was, at the time, one of these young girls.