A Kansas teen who messaged a friend about getting into prostitution with her was sentenced to 71 months in prison for aggravated human trafficking of a minor—even though the girl herself was a minor at the time and operating under the influence of a coercive and violent older man.
Hope Zeferjohn, now 19, faced a potential 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to the trafficking charge in March. In exchange for her guilty plea, Shawnee County prosecutors agreed to drop the 11 other charges they had filed against her.
Sentencing initially scheduled for June was postponed after Zeferjohn's public defender, Heather Nelson, withdrew from the case citing a potential conflict of interest due to new information provided by Zeferjohn. Defense attorney Kathleen Ambrosio took her place.
Activists in the sex-worker rights community and victims' advocates commenced a letter-writing campaign to Ambrosio and the judge in the case, citing mitigating factors they hoped would call for mercy from the judge.
Zeferjohn was a minor at the time, selling sex under pressure and alleged physical abuse from her adult boyfriend and pimp, Anthony Long. Even had he exerted no pressure or force, she would still have fallen under the federal definition of child sex-trafficking victim.
Hope "herself was sex trafficked," Zeferjohn's older sister, Heather, wrote in a public Facebook post.
Zeferjohn was just 15 when she met Long, then in his early 20s. She and her infant son had moved in with Long shortly before she attempted—at Long's urging—to recruit a 14-year-old friend from church camp to join them. The girl never agreed to the scheme, and the extent of the damage was Long sending her sexually explicit Facebook messages.
Zeferjohn's role, meanwhile, was limited to chatting with the girl on Facebook and digitally introducing her to Long. Nonetheless, Shawnee County, Kansas, arrested both Long and Zeferjohn on felony human-trafficking charges. Long was sentenced in April to 35 years in prison.
This week, Kansas' Third Judicial District court sentenced Zeferjohn with credit for time served since she turned 18, though not for the time she served in juvenile detension. (Zeferjohn has already been in custody for 378 days.) She is eligible for a 15 percent sentence reduction for good behavior, but will be subject to lifetime court supervision, registration as a sex offender, and a permanent ban on carrying a firearm.
According to public case notes, this sentence was meant to reflect a light touch owing to Zeferjohn's age and "participation [in the crime] under duress or oppression."
When people wonder why we have such a large prison population, independent of the drug war, think that our justice system considers a reasonable and compassionate solution sentencing a child under the coercion of a pimp to nearly six years in prison for online chatting.