After 15 years in prison Cyntoia Brown’s promise of freedom has finally come. “Cyntoia Denise Brown, a woman serving a life sentence for killing a man who bought her for sex when she was 16-years-old, has been granted clemency, the Tennessee governor’s office said Monday.”1
Brown was 16 when she was convicted of the murder of Johnny Mitchell Allen, a sex buyer. Today, in 2018, the courts would have seen her as the trafficked, terrified girl she was. Then, it was just a few years after the passing of the “Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000,”2 and few understood the coercive dynamics that push and pull vulnerable people into the sex industry.
Minors being sold for sex are now always seen as trafficking victims regardless of circumstance.
Prosecutors spun Johnny’s death as a robbery-motivated, cold blooded murder. Brown insisted it was an act of self protection and a subsequent robbery to appease her pimp. Despite her age they tried her as an adult. And she was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Appeals were made, but her case was out of the public view for over a decade following her sentencing. Justice had not been served because our legal system is comprised of people—people who are often blinded by the collective perception of the culture. Our culture has long been blind to the violence that girls caught in sexual exploitation face every day.
“The first time he did something to me is when he choked me and I passed out…I made him money…he wasn’t going to let me go nowhere. He told me he’d kill me.’”
In 2011 a documentary called Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story was released. In it Cyntoia says (about her pimp) “The first time he did something to me is when he choked me and I passed out…I made him money…he wasn’t going to let me go nowhere. He told me he’d kill me.’” The dangerous and violent situation she had been caught in was finally coming to light.
When you have lived under a system of brutal injustice the possibility of justice can seem like a fairytale. The courage it took for her to keep pursuing justice is stunning, especially in light of the prosecutor’s spin of her case in trial. Despite resistance she kept pursuing appeals to be heard in the media and the courts.
Still it wasn’t until 2017 when pop star Rihanna took up her case in social media that the world really began to take notice. Since then there has been a flood of social media buzz, protests, and petitions. Last Thursday the Nashville Metro Council joined the chorus of voices petitioning the governor for her clemency.3
In the last year people rose up to make sure Cyntoia’s truth was heard. This groundswell of public support for her case reflected a shifting cultural perception. Finally she was seen as the minor caught in dangerous circumstances that she had always been. People fought for her freedom and saw that hope realized. Justice prevailed!
Trafficked at 11 myself, believing in justice has been a long road. But days like this strengthen my faith and my resolve. The cry for justice is being released across the earth, and not only that… it is being heard!
People across social media celebrated Monday as Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam announced that he would be granting Cyntoia Brown clemency.
“YES!!!!! CYNTOIA WILL BE FREE!!!”
-Tarana Burkem, Founder of MeToo Movement
“Gov. Bill Haslam grants full clemency to Cyntoia Brown, sets Aug. 7 release from prison. Hallelujah!”
-Marian Hatcher, Survivor and National Expert on Combating Trafficking
“YES!!! YES! This is when our justice system makes me proud. Made my day ♥️”
-Viola Davis, actress
“It happened!! Thank you to everyone who fought for Cyntoia. Every phone call. Every letter. When you wonder, ‘I’m just one person, what can I do?’ Look at how many of you added up to create a wave of support and get the attention of the powers that be! YES! #CyntoiaBrown”
-Sophia Bush, actress
“Cyntoia Brown has finally received the justice she deserves! Prostituted women who fear for their lives are victims – victims of sexual exploitation. This is a major victory for those who have been victimized and exploited.”
-National Center on Sexual Exploitation
Cyntoia released her own statement following Governor Haslam’s announcement. She speaks without a glimmer of jadedness from years of justice withheld. She speaks looking into a future of not only receiving, but also bringing justice to those around her.
We truly serve a God of second chances and new beginnings… With God’s help, I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others…”
“Thank you, Governor Haslam, for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance… I am thankful for all the support, prayers, and encouragement I have received. We truly serve a God of second chances and new beginnings… With God’s help, I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others, especially young people. My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been.”4
#justicerising #abolition #endsexualexploitation
- 1. “Cyntoia Brown is granted clemency after serving 15 years in prison for killing man who bought her for sex,” CNN.com, https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/07/us/tennessee-cyntoia-brown-granted-clemency/index.html
- 2. “H.R.3244 – Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000,” Congress.Gov, https://www.congress.gov/bill/106th-congress/house-bill/03244
- 3.“Nashville council asks Gov. Haslam to grant clemency to Cyntoia Brown,” Tenessean.com, https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/01/03/nashville-council-votes-unanimously-ask-governor-haslam-grant-clemency-cyntoia-brown/2478917002/
- 4. “Read Cyntoia Brown’s full statement on her clemency,” Tennessean.com, https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/01/07/cyntoia-brown-clemency-read-her-full-statement-gov-bill-haslam-decision/2502303002/