Incarcerating Human Trafficking Victims is an Injustice
Sister Sally Duffy, SC
In August of 2018 Sasha Naiman, deputy director of Ohio Justice and Policy Center (OJPC), contacted me asking if I would write a letter to Governor John Kasich. I agreed to also engage other Women Religious Communities in Ohio to write similar letters.
There are numerous stories and articles about Alexis Martin. One of the most recent articles was published in the Washington Post.
The body of the letter I wrote on Sept. 6, 2018, to Governor John Kasich is as follows:
I am writing to ask for your help for a trafficking survivor named Alexis Martin. Please support the clemency application for Alexis and commute her sentence and issue a pardon, in the spirit and intent of Safe Harbor. There is an extraordinary injustice when children get imprisoned for trying to escape violent, abusive traffickers.
Alexis was arrested at age 15 and sentenced to 21 years to life in adult prison, in connection with the murder of her pimp. I live in Cincinnati and am a sister of Charity of Cincinnati. I also serve on the board of U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking and the Ohio Justice & Policy Center.
Alexis’s early childhood was marked by neglect, abuse, and trauma. By age 14, it is well-documented that Alexis was trafficked by violent, controlling pimps. Alexis was kidnapped, raped, starved, drugged, and beaten by these pimps; forced to dance at strip clubs; and forced to have sex with strangers. The pimps took all the money Alexis earned. She tried to get help from a juvenile probation officer, DYS, and her parents, but no one helped. At age 15, Alexis reached out to an ex-boyfriend and another female trafficking victim (who were both adults in their 20s) for help – to get some of her money back and to escape far away. Alexis thought that her ex-boyfriend would come to her pimp’s house, get the money, and get Alexis out. In the process of this “robbery,” the ex-boyfriend ended up killing Alexis’ pimp and hurting that pimp’s brother (another pimp, who was raping Alexis at that moment of the “robbery”). Alexis did not know that anyone would get hurt, and she is deeply sorry for the loss of life.
Alexis was arrested in connection with the robbery and murder. The juvenile court recognized that she was a victim of human trafficking based on the clear underlying facts. Because her attorney did not know about Ohio’s Safe Harbor law, he never fully explained how the robbery, assault, and homicide were related to the trafficking – and he never asked the court to appoint a guardian ad litem, as required by Safe Harbor law. If the court had understood that this was an escape attempt, Alexis should have been granted a guardian ad litem under Ohio’s Safe Harbor Law. A guardian ad litem gives recommendations about a juvenile’s best interests and the most effective responses from the court, like addiction treatment and mental health services. Then, the court can put all charges on hold, place the juvenile in appropriate diversion activities, and – when the diversion is complete — dismiss and expunge all records of the case. However, Alexis never received a guardian ad litem; she also didn’t know she was entitled to this type of advocate.
Instead, Alexis’ case was moved to adult court, and she was convicted, at age 16, of robbery and murder. The court sentenced her to 21 years to life in an adult prison. Alexis willingly talked to the FBI and helped them catch some of the people involved in trafficking girls; she did this risking danger to herself. Then, Alexis, with a new attorney, appealed her case all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court. The Ohio Supreme Court recognized that Alexis was clearly a victim of trafficking and noted specific, troubling details about the trafficker’s control and exploitation of Alexis. “There is also evidence that Kerney trafficked Martin,” the ruling said. “According to Martin, Kerney had her perform exotic dances, sell drugs for him, prepare about eight other girls for prostitution, and collect money from them. Martin used the name Alexis Love and referred to Kerney as ‘Dad.’” Despite these facts, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled against Alexis – because her trial attorney did not bring evidence that her offenses were related to the sex slavery, abuse, and violence she endured.
Today, Alexis is 20 years and incarcerated at DCI. During her 6 years behind bars, Alexis has gotten her GED, is getting an HVAC certification, and is creating new prison programs to help other sex trafficking survivors heal.
Please support Alexis’ application because child victims of sex traffickers should not spend 21 to life in prison! I thank you in advance for considering this clemency and opportunity to right injustice.
Sister Sally Duffy, SC
Sasha Naiman now serves as the Executive Director of the Children’s Law Center in Covington, Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. Visit:
I recently was visiting with Alexis in the Dayton Correctional Institution when she was discussing with gratitude the pro bono lawyers who first began working on her case. Jennifer Kingsley served as Alexis’ first pro bono attorney. She is now Judge Kingsley. I asked Alexis if Jennifer was her first experience with unconditional love and she said “yes.”
As I write this, it is Pentecost Sunday the disciples were locked in a room out of fear.
Unfortunately, when frightened or encountering change or difference we can have the impulse to lock someone out through a wall or lock someone up through a cell or barbed wire fences. The Holy Spirit and Jesus were able to enter the locked room of the disciples and the result was transformational.
Judge Jennifer Kingsley and Sasha Naiman are just a few of the countless lawyers who do pro bono service to protect the civil rights of individuals as well as share a vision of a criminal justice system. OJPC’s shared value is we do not write people off. Pro bono attorneys through years of persistence and perseverance find ways to unlock cells and take down walls and fences, to ensure that the truth will truly set people free. Please thank a pro bono attorney for their dedication service and unconditional love.
Please pray for, visit, or write a card to a human trafficking survivor who is experiencing incarceration. The accompaniment and the encounter are a source of grace and blessing. I receive so much more from Alexis Martin than I could ever give.