Chrystul Kizer, a victim of child sex abuse, was 17 years old when she shot and killed her abuser, Randall P. Volar, set his house on fire and stole his car in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Now, her upcoming trial is getting a new spotlight in the wake of Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal.
Both Kizer and Rittenhouse were 17 years old when they were accused of their crimes, and many are saying that if Rittenhouse can use self defense in his case and beat the charges, then Kizer should have the same experience.
But we all know it won’t be that easy.
Volar had been suspected of child abuse and human trafficking by Wisconsin police for months. The Root previously reported that Volar even kept tapes of himself abusing at least a dozen young Black girls. Weeks before his death he was arrested and charged with child enticement, second-degree sexual assault of a child, and using a computer to facilitate a child sex crime. However, even with the mountain of evidence and a witness statement, Volar was set free and his case never revisited.
Kizer says on the night that she shot Volar twice in the head, he had attempted to rape her. Prosecutors are saying that the murder was premeditated, and the now 20 year-old went to Volar’s house that night to steal his car.
NPR reports that her name was chanted by protesters at a demonstration against the Rittenhouse verdict this weekend, alongside the names of the three men Rittenhouse shot.
In June, Kizer, who was released from jail after two years last summer, was finally granted the ability to use “affirmative defense” in her case. This was previously denied by Kenosha County Circuit Judge David Wilk, but his decision was overturned in appellate court. According to NPR, the case is now being reviewed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Julius Kim, an attorney and former criminal prosecutor in Wisconsin, says invoking affirmative defense essentially flips the burden of proof onto the prosecution.
If the defense can prove that Kizer was a victim of sex trafficking, then it falls on the state to “prove beyond a reasonable doubt that either she wasn’t a victim of human sex trafficking or that the crime that she committed was not a direct result of that human sex trafficking,” Kim tells NPR.
While protesters are bringing up Kizer’s case in the context of the Rittenhouse trial, Kim points out a key difference: The videos played during the Rittenhouse trial showed the “imminency” of the danger,” he says, and that type of element is missing in Kizer’s case, since the state is arguing that Kizer traveled to Volar’s house with the intent to kill him.
Self-defense arguments are common with any violent altercation, Kim says, but are far less common when it comes to child sex-trafficking cases, which often go unnoticed in the first place. Kizer is a “sympathetic defendant,” he says, and her case will ultimately test whether the affirmative defense argument can hold up in a case involving homicide.
Kizer’s case has always been closely watched by activists and legal experts for the major ramifications it could have on the future handling of child sex-trafficking cases. Now, more eyes are on the case to see if the same justice system that freed (and coddled) Rittenhouse will do the same for a Black teen who has been failed by the same system in which she’s fighting for her freedom.
“We see these cases as incredibly important ... to protect and uplift and support the individual women, who are overwhelmingly Black women,” said Sharlyn Grace, former executive director of the Chicago Community Bond Fund, to Wisconsin Public Radio last year.
“Because the reality is that Chrystul Kizer was not kept safe by police and prosecution and incarceration and, in fact, after she was forced to defend herself and she chose to survive, she was then further harmed by those systems,”
According to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, State Rep. David Bowen, who is running for lieutenant governor, told protestors at Civic Center Park on Sunday, “Now you’ve got a chance to prove yourself. Now you’ve got a chance to change the narrative,” he said. “That if you truly believe in justice, just like the Lord believes in justice, then you too can fight for justice for that Black woman, who deserves it.”