Written by JiaYun Hu, Lindsey Schlager, and Lindsey Hornung
Chrystul Kizer is a name that everyone should know. She became a victim of human trafficking at a young age and therefore, was not given the opportunity to enjoy her childhood. She was exploited by a person that she once trusted and believed was the only friend she had. Chrystul was charged with arson and first-degree intentional homicide, an offense that carries a mandatory life sentence in Wisconsin.
Chrystul has been surrounded by abuse her entire life. Devore Taylor, Chrystul’s mother, was in a domestically violent relationship and the kids were also subjected to it. Chrystul learned to guide her siblings to their bedrooms while they had to wait for the police to arrive at such a young age. In 2015, they moved from Indiana to Milwaukee, where they had to stay at a Salvation Army shelter for months before affording a place. Chrystul and her brother started to act out more; she was skipping school while her brother was selling cars. During this time, she formed a relationship with Delane Nelson, where she was also subjected to abuse.
Chrystul’s life has been surrounded by abuse, but she tried to find the things in life that made her happy. When she was in junior high, she earned a spot in Gary’s performing arts academy. She also tried to play the violin, and chose orchestra as her specialty.
In 2016, Chrystul was 16 when she posted an advertisement on “Backpage.com'' because she needed money for school and snacks. This is where she met a thirty-three year old man named Randy Volar. Volar always complimented Chrystul and offered her gifts, money, food, and even let her use his car in exchange for sexual favors. Right after her 17th birthday, Chrystul was arrested for fleeing an officer when the police tried to pull her over. Volar paid her $400 bond. Since then, Volar often claims that Chrystul owes him when she refused to do specific sex acts. When Chrystul tried to cut connections with Volar, Volar threatened that he would kill her if she did. Chrystul stated in an interview, “He was a grown-up, and I wasn’t, so I listened.”
What Chrystul didn’t know is that this generous friend was trafficking her and other girls. In February 2018, Volar was arrested for child sexual assault. Police found hundreds of child pornagraphy videos in his house. More than twenty of these videos were “homemade” by Volar with underage black girls, some as young as age 12. Although he committed a felony that is punishable by up to 40 years in state prison, he was released on the same day of being arrested. Volar did not even pay his bail, he simply lied to the police that he would be summoned to court and remained completely free. In the videos Volar made, he described himself as an “escort trainer.” He instructed girls on what they could do to keep their body parts in working order to be better prostitutes.
The man told Chrystul that he could support her and she no longer needed to put out ads. However, he later sold her online himself. He drove her to the hotels and took all the money she earned. In June 2018, Chrystul resisted Volar's attempts to forcibly engage in sexual activity. During this struggle, Chrystul shot Volar in an act of self-defense. Due to fear, she set his house on fire and left with his vehicle. However, she was facing life in prison on charges of murdering her alleged sex trafficker. Chrystul is a victim, but is not treated as one.
Wisconsin is one of the states that has a law that gives sex-trafficking victims an “affirmative defense.” But the affirmative defense law has never been used in a homicide or any other violent crime. Lead prosecutor and District Attorney Michael Graveley stated that the murder of Volar was premeditated. The prosecution agreed that Volar was an abuser, but further stated that Kizer planned to steal Volar's car. In December 2019, Judge Wilk ruled that Chrystul did not have access to the affirmative defense law for trafficking victims. It turns out that although there are laws like affirmative defense law trying to protect trafficking victims, there are still flaws and omissions, which do not cover victims like Chrystul who’s involved in violent crime. You can contact Wisconsin State Legislators at the State Capitol office: 1-800-362-9472 to plead with them to fix these flaws in their system.
Kizer's case received national attention after The Washington Post covered the story in December 2019. Supporters from around the nation believed Chrystul acted in self-defense and was a victim of sex trafficking. A combination of community groups and activists including Chrystul Kizer Defense Committee, Chicago Community Bond Fund, Milwaukee Freedom Fund and Survived & Punished, started raising a bail fund to pay the $400,000 bail and bring Chrystul home. A petition to #FreeChrystul that has circulated widely on social media has received nearly 1 million signatures and hundreds of letters, encouraging words, artwork and books were even sent to her jail cell in Kenosha.
With the unremitting efforts of everyone involved, Chrystul was finally released after two years of incarnation. Although Chrystul is free now, it is the sad reality that many other victims are going through the same experience as Chrystul. Sharlyn Grace, the executive director of the Chicago Community Bond Fund, said “Bail funds alone are just one tiny part of this much larger movement, and we have to be investing resources in lifting up day-to-day community organizing.” The Chicago Community Bond Fund said that when Chrystul’s case was over, the majority of the returned bond money would be steered to a national bail fund for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. It is still urgent to keep fighting to transform our society.
Chrystul still needs our help. Although she is currently out on bail, she still faces charges that could result in a mandatory life sentence. She deserves to have these charges dropped, recognized as a victim, and set free. Please join the campaign to have her charges dropped. Sign the petition here.
Yours in the fight,
JiaYun Hu, Lindsey Schlager, Lindsey Hornung