In 2020, a 37-year-old man named Zachary Brooks began trafficking a 15-year-old girl to other men for sex, as well as raping her several times himself. That girl was Pieper Lewis, who is now 17. In a fit of rage against her captor, Lewis stabbed the man several times, killing him. According to this Iowa state law, she now owes the man’s family $150,000. This GoFundMe account is raising that money for her – and also speaking out about why that law isn’t necessarily fair.
17-Year-Old Pieper Lewis Forced To Pay $150,000 To The Family of The Man Who Raped Her
When Pieper Lewis was just 15 years old, she ran away from her home in Des Moines. She was trying to escape her abusive home life. With nowhere to go, she ended up sleeping in the hallway of an apartment building. That’s where Mr. Brooks found her, and subsequently took her in. That was the last “kind” act that he ever did for her. He began trafficking her out for sex with other men for money. When he wasn’t trafficking her, he used her for his own sexual desires. The 37-year-old man raped her repeatedly, Lewis told the courts. (1)
Finally, the then 15-year-old had had enough. Enough abuse, enough being raped by other men, and especially enough being trapped with this man and being abused by him over and over again. In a fit of rage against him, she stabbed him several times. Brooks succumbed to his wounds quickly and died, meaning that the teenage girl had killed him.
Following The Law
The case then went to court, where it was presented to an Iowa judge. The authorities did not dispute her story that she was trafficked and raped. Lewis, however, also pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and willful injury for stabbing to death Zachary Brooks. The judge sentenced her to five years of probation along with a deferred judgment. This means that, provided that she reaches the conditions of her sentence, her record could be expunged. According to Iowa state law, however, she also has to pay a restitution fee of $150,000 to Mr. Brooks’ family.
Leland Schipper was Pieper Lewis’ freshman math teacher at Des Moines Lincoln High School was dismayed that the young teen still would be required to pay the restitution. They decided to start a GoFundMe campaign to help raised the funds for the disadvantaged teen. The fundraiser, which started out with a $200,000 goal, has now surpassed $555,000. Pieper’s lawyers now need to determine whether or not she can legally use those funds to pay the restitution or not. (2)
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A Compassionate Decision
Schipper describes the judge’s decision as a compassionate one. Having attended both days of the sentencing hearing, he believes that the judge did make the right decision. The judge saw Pieper for the child victim that she was, and delivered the verdict as such. The problem, however, is that she was first convicted as an adult with a first-degree murder charge.
“DMPD and the Polk County prosecutor’s office saw Pieper immediately as a grown, violent, adult, murderer, and they charged her as such. Only because a team of amazing people came to Pieper’s side, was her story truly heard and understood. However, with the risk of life in prison looming, Pieper pled guilty to charges of manslaughter and willful injury. This was to avoid a risky trial where her team feared an Iowa jury may implicitly struggle to see a young black girl as the victim of sex trafficking that she was,” Schipper wrote in the GoFundMe description. “in Iowa, there is a law that states that anyone who is convicted of killing a person, regardless of circumstances, must pay that individual’s family 150,000 dollars. This law is intended to provide justice to families who lost their loved ones. However, in the case of Pieper, it will require her to pay 150,000 dollars to the family of a man who purchased Pieper’s fifteen-year-old body from a sex trafficker, gave her drugs and alcohol, and then raped her repeatedly.”
An Unfair Law
Schipper went on to say that it isn’t fair that Peiper will be financially burdened for the rest of her life because of this law that doesn’t give a judge any discretion over how it is applied. He explained in the description of the page that a child should never, under any circumstances, owe money to their rapists’ family – no one should owe that. In this specific case, he says Pieper should not owe a dime to this man’s family. This is why Schipper wants to help this young girl – to help her move on from this experience and become the wonderful woman he knows she can be.
“Pieper has five years of probation ahead of her; five years that she will be required to be nearly perfect to avoid facing 20 years in prison. She will do hundreds of hours of community service each year. She will be subject to drug testing, required to take classes, and attend therapy. Pieper’s path to true freedom will not be easy, and she is still a teenager that has experienced a lot of trauma,” he explained. “Pieper wants to go to college, she wants to create art, and she wants to advocate for other girls who find themselves in situations like she endured. She does not deserve a massive debt looming over her, holding her back from pursuing her ambitions.”
He says that, should it be allowed, the money will go towards paying off the restitution, the additional $4000 owed in restitution to the state, help her go to college, university, or start her own business, and give her options to help other victims of sex crimes.
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- “Pieper Lewis GoFundMe reaches $500,000; she must pay $150,000 to estate of accused rapist she killed.” Des Moines Register. Philip Joens. September 16, 2022.
- “Help Pieper Lewis, Survivor of Sex Trafficking.” Go Fund Me