Wednesday morning, Cyntoia Brown was released from jail after being sentenced to life in prison for killing a man responsible for sex trafficking her when she was only 16. She was granted clemency in January by then Tennessee Governor Haslam.
Her clemency came after high-profile advocates and popular celebrities highlighted the injustice she had faced. Years after her sentencing, her case sparked widespread discussion across social media inspiring the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown. Her case was also brought to the world’s attention through filmmaker Dan Birman’s documentary that filmed her case from trial to her incarceration. Celebrities like Rihanna and Kim Kardashian took her case to their millions of followers around the world explaining the horrible injustice she was facing as she suffered in prison. Kim Kardashian even called her personal attorneys to work Cyntoia Brown’s case.
Brown was tried as an adult at the age of 16 and convicted of first-degree murder for killing a 43-year old man. She had testified that she was forced into prostitution by a pimp and then solicited for sex to Johnny Mitchel Allen who she then later shot and killed. She claimed that she resisted Allen and killed him in self-defense in the hope that she could escape the horrifying abuse.
Advocates have highlighted how institutional racism and discrepancies in the criminal justice system criminalize black and brown girls by labeling them as prostitutes when they are victims of sex trafficking. According to the Bureau of Justice, more than 1,000 children are arrested for prostitution every year in the United States. Many have also argued that cases like Brown’s should be reconsidered under the new “safe harbor” laws that protect minors that are trafficked into sex slavery from criminal charges.
Media Resources: U.S Department of Justice 10/2012, The Root 11/21/17, NPR 12/01/17, CNN 08/07/19