by Kevin W. Bliss
On November 9, 2022, an Iowa teenager convicted of murdering a man she claimed repeatedly raped her was recaptured, five days after her escaped from the Fresh Start Women’s Center (FSWC) in Polk County, Iowa. Peiper Lewis, 18, was recaptured after walking out and then cutting off a GPS tracking device. She was serving a five-year probated sentence handed down in September 2022, along with an order to pay restitution and complete 200 hours of community service.
Earlier in her teens, Lewis repeatedly ran away from home before taking up with a man who set her up with an online dating service in April 2020 to pimp her out for sex. It was through this dating service that Lewis met Zachary Brooks, 37, married with two children, in May 2020.
Lewis said the man she lived with sent her to Brooks’ home on multiple occasions to have sex in exchange for drugs. While there, she said Brooks would ply her with marijuana and alcohol until she passed out. On several occasions she said she woke up with Brooks forcing himself on her sexually.
One day in June 2020 Lewis recounted that she woke up at Brooks’ home and realized she had once again been raped. In a rage, she grabbed a knife and repeatedly stabbed Brooks 30 times until he died. Lewis was just 15 years old when she killed her alleged rapist.
She pleaded guilty in June 2021 to a reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter and willful injury. Her sentence included $150,000 in restitution to Brooks’ family, as required by a 1997 state law. A GoFundMe account set up by Lewis’ ninth-grade teacher quickly raised $560,000 to cover the restitution and Lewis’ other needs.
She was then remanded for her probation to FSWC, which claims to specialize in a “safe and holistic approach to supervision that seeks to educate, support and advocate for all women to transform their lives.”
After her November 2022 escape, the judge revoked Lewis’ probation, and a warrant was issued for her arrest. She has since been held in the Polk County Jail and appeared on March 9, 2023, to plead guilty in front of Judge Becky Goettsch. At a sentencing now set for May 2023, Lewis faces up to a year in prison and a fine of $2,500 for violating probation. Additionally, she could be sentenced to prison up to 10 years on each of two charges in Brooks’ death.
Lewis’ case reached the national spotlight after a Des Moines Register investigative report found that police had done nothing about the sex trafficking allegations despite the fact that sex with a 15-year-old is a crime in Iowa. Prosecutors showed some recognition of Lewis’ plight by recommending probation instead of prison.
Lewis is not the first sexual assault victim forced by Iowa law to deal with incarceration and restitution. Cyntoia Brown Long, 32, was granted clemency in 2019 for murdering her rapist in 2006. Now an advocate for women in similar circumstances, she said: “It is a story that has unfortunately become all too familiar.”
KellyMarie Meek of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault said the trauma induced under these circumstances directly affected women’s ability to serve such sentences. “I know that many of the ways that trauma survivors deal with their trauma is not understood very well by folks that haven’t experienced trauma,” she said, “which can sometimes lead to behaviors that get folks in trouble.”
Sources: CNN, Des Moines Register, KCRG, NPR
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