(CN) — A convicted pimp is on the hook for repaying his former prostitute as much as $304,500 in earnings he took from her, a California appellate court ruled.
In an unanimous opinion Friday, the San Francisco-based First Appellate District overturned a trial judge who had denied the former prostitute, identified as H.B., restitution for the work she was forced to do for her pimp Lamar Deshawn Hall. The judge didn't believe he could award restitution for work that was itself illegal.
The three-judge appellate panel disagreed, pointing out that the statute in question specifically deals with restitution for victims of human trafficking, which includes forced prostitution.
"It is therefore unlikely that a legislature which recognized forced prostitution as an instance of human trafficking and sought to compensate victims of human trafficking, intended also to exclude victims of forced prostitution from that compensation without ever saying so," wrote Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Joni Hiramoto, who serves on the appellate court temporarily.
Hall began exploiting H.B. soon after they met, and she was under his control for more three and a half years, according to the ruling. She earned about $300 a day providing sexual services to clients, all of which Hall took.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed a brief with the appellate court in support of H.B.'s petition, in which he described how she once tried to escape by moving out of the area and how Hall tracked her down and dragged her back into a life of forced prostitution.
"Like thousands of human trafficking victims throughout the state, H.B. was forced to work without pay, in dangerous situations, for the financial benefit of her trafficker," Bonta said.
Victims of sex trafficking are forced to engage in commercial sexual acts at the hands of their exploiter, Bonta said, and the trial judge's interpretation of the statute missed its purpose, which is to allow human trafficking victims such as H.B. a chance to recover from the devastating physical, mental and financial harm caused by Hall.
"The superior court’s interpretation would instead allow those convicted of sex trafficking to keep the money that they derived from financially exploiting victims, rather than justly compensating them," Bonta said.
Hall pleaded no contest to one count of human trafficking and one count of pimping in 2022. He was sentenced to 13 years and four months in prison. According to Friday's ruling, he never argued that the $340,500 figure was inaccurate — only that restitution for that amount was not authorized by law.
Hall's attorney didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the appellate court's decision.
Kristen DiAngelo, executive director of the Sex Workers Outreach Project Sacramento, praised the appellate ruling.
“I think he should pay her back tenfold for what happened,” DiAngelo said.
Through her organization, DiAngelo said she’s seen victims help prosecute their traffickers, then be handed a phone list of resources. They call the numbers, only to discover a six-month waiting list for every resource. That’s little help when a victim can’t return to their home because it belonged to their trafficker.
The ruling in H.B.’s case shows that people forced into her circumstances aren’t disposable, DiAngelo said. When someone has no choice, they shouldn’t be made to suffer more by having no restitution. The appellate decision also could help get victims to talk, DiAngelo said.
In many cases, a victim’s living situation doesn’t change when they opt to speak to authorities. They often return to the streets and everyone knows they talked.
“I hope that that starts changing things,” DiAngelo said of the ruling.Follow @edpettersson
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