Sex-trafficking survivor, Cyntoia Brown, was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted as a teenager for killing her alleged attacker and predator. Now, after spending almost fifteen years in prison, she will be eligible for release into supervised parole in August this year.
After being abused and forced into sex work as a child in 2004 by a pimp known as ‘Cut Throat’, Cyntoia Brown was picked up for sex by a 43-year-old man, Johnny Allen. She was a minor at the time (under the legal age of consent) and a sex-trafficking victim when he solicited sex from her. According to her testimony, Cyntoia feared for her life when she killed Allen. The Mail & Guardian reports that Allen allegedly showed her his firearms and forcefully “grabbed” her between her legs. She tried to protect herself from a predator she believed was going to kill her.
Cyntoia Brown was then charged as an adult and the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that she will only be eligible for release after 51 years in prison. Celebrities and activists including Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and LeBron James used their platforms and resources to call for her release. Her story went viral and led to a social media campaign, with many influential people advocating for her freedom.
Her sentence was called out as being unfairly harsh, highlighting problems within the justice system. Brown’s advocates mentioned that white people are often handed lighter sentences than women of colour, for example, alleged trafficker Jeffrey Epstein and rapist Brock Turner.
Here’s a reminder that Rapist Brock Turner walked free after 3 months of a 6 month sentence, while rape victim Cyntoia Brown sits in jail. Free Cyntoia! pic.twitter.com/5MCwlHiedk
— Lora Nastase (@mamanastase) November 27, 2017
At 30-years-old, Cyntoia Brown, has now been granted clemency by Tennessee governor Bill Hassan on Monday. Her parole will last for a decade and will include “special supervision conditions, including employment, education, counseling, and community engagement requirements”.
👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 Thank you Governor Haslam 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 https://t.co/rAiru84fgn
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) January 7, 2019
While in prison, Cyntoia Brown studied and received her GED (high school degree) with the aim of getting her Bachelor’s Degree this year. Her attorneys have called her transformation “nothing short of miraculous”. The length of her probation has been criticized by some activists for being excessive.
We are relieved to learn that Cyntoia Brown’s sentence has been commuted—but we also know that nothing will rewind her years of incarceration. Black girls deserve better. And #CyntoiaBrown deserves better than a decade of parole. https://t.co/Pjp8tvYbLx
— NWLC (@nwlc) January 7, 2019
According to The Cut, Cyntoia Brown thanked many people who were involved in her struggle. The statement released by her lawyers also included the following:
“I have one course left to finish my Bachelor’s degree, which I will complete in May 2019. I am thankful for all the support, prayers, and encouragement I have received. We truly serve a God of second chances and new beginnings. The Lord has held my hand this whole time and I would have never made it without Him. Let today be a testament to His Saving Grace.
“Thank you to my family for being a backbone these past 14 years. I am thankful to my lawyers and their staffs, and all the others who, for the last decade have freely given of their time and expertise to help me get to this day.
“I love all of you and will be forever grateful. 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. Thank you.”
Justice has finally been served: #CyntoiaBrown has been granted clemency. This victory belongs to Cyntoia Brown & to the Tennessee human trafficking activists, especially Black women, who refused to concede injustice & instead organized to create change. https://t.co/ANC0aOXj5N
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) January 7, 2019
It should not take a celebrity-backed viral campaign for our most vulnerable to receive justice. But this decision is nonetheless a win, a wake-up call and a step in the right direction.
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