Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Human Trafficking Conviction and a Victim's Inspirational Message

Last week, Montgomery County prosecutors won their FIRST conviction under a relatively new law that targets HUMAN TRAFFICKING.

Brian Jonathan Kieffer, 33, of Lansdale, was sentenced to five to 10 years in state prison after he pleaded guilty to charges of trafficking in minors, promoting prostitution of a minor and corruption of a minor in connection with incidents that occurred in Montgomery, Bucks and Philadelphia counties with a 16-year-old girl between August and October 2015. With an additional eight years of probation, the sentence, imposed by Judge Gail A. Weilheimer, means Kieffer will be under court supervision for 18 years.

Brian Kieffer/Photo courtesy Montco DA

Kieffer was the first to be charged, convicted and sentenced in Montgomery County under the revised state law, Act 105 of 2014, which was sponsored by state Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf, an Upper Moreland Republican. The law became effective in September 2014.

The act was written to address weaknesses in the state’s previous human trafficking law which allowed offenders to be charged with lesser crimes and did not address sexual servitude, officials said.

“Certainly, we’re going to take these crimes very seriously and make sure that offenders are punished seriously,” Prosecutor Lindsay O’Brien said.

As a result of Kieffer's guilty plea his teenage victim did not have to testify at a trial.

But she had the courage to come forward to face a courtroom full of supporters and strangers and still tell her story during an emotional victim impact statement, forcing people to take a look at the harsh realities of addiction and the world of human trafficking.

The petite, soft-spoken, now 17-year-old girl, with poise and eloquence, expressed the trauma she suffered at the hands of Kieffer, who manipulated her into engaging in sex acts with men for money or drugs. She did not struggle to tell what happened to her and must be commended for her fearlessness in ripping the Band-Aid off and exposing the reality of this repugnant crime.

Some of her comments were included in the news story that followed Kieffer's conviction. But her message was so moving, so important, that it is deserving of more space and attention. The following are additional excerpts of the young woman's remarks, which the judge called “a powerful message.” 

“As of right now I am content with myself and my life. I have overcome the majority of my struggles that I have dealt with in my past. The only thing I’m still struggling with is accepting and coping with the trauma I experienced because of this monster,” the Hatfield Township girl said as she stood before the judge, Kieffer and courtroom spectators.

"Just like all of you I am a human being. I have a heart, soul, mind and a body, all of which I deeply treasure. But I have not always felt this way. I didn’t care much about myself way before my involvement with Brian. But after I met him and started being trafficked, I felt like an object, a piece of trash and a toy. I lost all self-respect and motivation to live a better life. He caused me to feel this way. I was dead inside as I was simply living to please him and my addiction,” the young girl said.

Press Release announcing Kieffer's arrest
“I was vulnerable and lonely. He noticed by vulnerabilities and took advantage of them. He got me to trust and love him, thinking he could take care of me. I was blind to what he was really doing. Within his manipulation, lies and scams I was torn up inside. I didn’t know what was real…,” she added.

The girl said she thought she loved Kieffer. Then she said she read a book, “Stolen” by Kateriina Rosenblatt, the true story of a girl who experienced sexual trafficking.

“I related to it in so many ways. I learned a lot about myself while reading this book. It opened my eyes and gave me a new outlook that consisted of the realization that Brian Kieffer groomed me into trusting him, loving him, supporting him and looking out for him. I was brainwashed by both him and my drug addiction. I was trapped in this lifestyle,” the girl said.

“Unless you have experienced it yourself, addiction is a difficult concept to understand. I believed I had no way out. If I had escaped from the relationship with Brian I would become sick. At the time, this was my worst fear,” the girl said.

The girl said she still has flashbacks that frighten her, has nightmares and is fearful of being alone with men. She said she is happy most of the time but that sometimes the memories creep up on her and haunt her. She said she’s grateful for her family’s support and wanted justice “so my parents can be more at peace.”

The girl, who now has college aspirations, acknowledged that she did not have to come to court and make a very public statement but she said she felt it necessary “for people to hear from the actual victim.”

“I want people to know that I am not just a name on a piece of paper or in a story. This could have happened to anyone. It could have been anyone’s daughter, sister, cousin or friend. God chose this battle for me. Nothing can take back what has already taken place but the future can be changed,” the girl said. “I appreciate everyone who has listened.”

Indeed "a powerful message:" "Nothing can take back what has already taken place but the future can be changed.

Her voice was heard. The teenage girl’s words resonated with the tearful spectators in the courtroom. Out of despair came strength and resolve.

Montco Judge Gail Weilheimer/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

“This does not need to define you. Think about what you’ve already overcome. You really can be unstoppable and you have to believe in yourself,” Judge Weilheimer addressed the girl with compassion.

Despite her dreadful experience, the 17-year-old found a way to leave everyone in that courtroom with a feeling of hope.

She is an inspiration to everyone facing struggles.

“Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.” Christopher Reeve

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