Zephaniah “Zephi” Trevino is being charged for a murder she did not commit in Dallas. Her sex trafficker, Philip Baldenegro, has already confessed to pulling the trigger, but the justice system refuses to acknowledge Zephi as a victim.
At the age of 16, Baldenegro trafficked Zephi by originally posing as her boyfriend. Before long, he was using drugs and threats against her and her loved ones to sell her for sex. All of this eventually led to her being wrongfully arrested when Baldenegro shot two men, one of which he killed, who had both come under the pretense of being able to buy and rape Zephi. Now, she stands accused of collaborating in the murder.
Zephi did not choose this way of life. In fact, no child can ever choose to be sexually exploited. Instead, she stumbled into exploitation after being abused by a former boyfriend. Baldenegro used this trauma against her to force her into having commerical sex with adult men. Now, after being trafficked and exploited as a minor, Zephi is facing life in prison without parole – merely because her trafficker killed a man who paid to rape her.
What Should Have Happened
In an ideal world, none of this would have happened. Even if all of the charges were to be dropped, Zephi has already spent more than a year in a detention center on trumped-up charges. She was eventually released to house arrest but has once again returned to jail after the justice system decided to try her as an adult.
In an ideal world, police would have quickly identified Zephi as a victim of sex trafficking and got her the help she needed. Prosecutors would have dropped all charges and referred her to specialists who help survivors learn to overcome their trauma and resume their lives.
Our system has failed Zephi in two crucial ways: Not only did Zephi not receive the help she so clearly needed, now she is being punished for her status as a victim of sex trafficking. This is yet one more example of how deep the culture of victim blaming goes.
Victim Blaming and the Justice System
Stories like Zephi’s are an everyday occurrence in the United States of America. We, Americans, feel as if these things are only common in other countries around the world (and they certainly are), but they also happen here every single day.
On an average day in America, thousands of people – including children like Zephi – are forced into the modern equivalent of human slavery. Often, they are raped, beaten, drugged, and abused. When the justice system finally finds them, instead of receiving the help they deserve, they find themselves in situations where they are blamed for what has happened to them. Sometimes, they even face criminal charges for their own exploitation.
This has nothing to do with the individuals who work within the system – many of them want to help. Thousands of police officers, lawyers, social care workers, and judges are trying their best to help people in need. But they are often working against a system that makes it hard for victims to find justice. The problem isn’t the people. It’s the laws, the culture, and even the policy.
Zephi’s situation makes it clear that now more than ever, we need to bring fundamental change to a system that unfairly punishes victims while letting their traffickers off the hook. This means a significant change in the culture and institutions that enable victim blaming and demonization. Change will not be easy, but it is necessary.
Not a single person should ever have to experience what Zephi Trevino has.
If you want to help Zephi Trevino, please join us this Friday and Saturday (4/16 and 4/17) for a #FreeZephi Day of Action. Use the hashtag on social media to pressure District Attorney John Creuzot to drop all charges against Zephi Trevino in the name of justice.