Ricky Rodgers/The Tennessean

According to The Root, Cyntoia Brown’s biological mother faced sexual abuse, poor mental health, and addiction to drugs and alcohol, which led to her diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome. After running away from her adoptive parents, then 16-year-old Brown was forced into prostitution by a 24-year-old man who went by the nickname of “Cut-Throat”, and abused her emotionally and physically. “He put guns up to me, told me to strip…get into bed with other people…sometimes I didn’t want to have sex with him…I’d be crying and everything.”

Brown then met Johnny Allen, a 43 year old real estate agent who sex-trafficked her.  According to Stacy Case of Fox 17 News Nashville, she was physically abused, and “there was always a gun being pointed at her.” Fearing for her life, Brown shot Allen and was sentenced to life in prison. CNN reports that Brown has served 14 years in prison and has to serve 51 years before she is eligible for parole.

Brown being tried as an adult while she was a child is the norm for Black girls in America. A study released by Georgetown Law says that Black girls experience “adultification” as young as 5 years old. According to this report, adults view Black girls as less innocent and believe that they need “less nurturing, support, protection and comfort than their white counterparts,” as well as assume that Black girls “are more independent and know more about adult topics than white girls.”

According to Rights4Girls, “a human rights organization dedicated to ending gender-based violence against young women and girls in the U.S,” out of every race, African-American girls represent 40% of human trafficking victims and comprise 59% of all prostitution arrests. Rights4Girls released a report stating that Black girls girls comprise 14% of the American population yet 33% of all girls detained after going through the the sexual-abuse-to-prison pipeline.

Despite the fact that Black girls and women are disproportionately affected by these issues, we are often left out of the conversation surrounding human trafficking and sexual violence. Black women and girls didn’t get a lot of news coverage and school walkouts in their support when they shared their stories. Not only are Black women and girls being left out of the conversation, they are being criminalized for being survivors. Brown was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison for defending herself.

As Virginians, our support for Brown and other victims of human trafficking and sexual violence applies to us as well. Virginia is ranked #6 in human trafficking calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

“Human trafficking is an emerging public safety threat across our nation, including here in Virginia. Trafficked victims don’t come from any one place. They come from large cities, small towns, different socioeconomic situations and diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds.” -Attorney General Mark R. Herring

Here’s what you can do to support Cyntoia Brown right now. You can sign a petition by MoveOn.Org which has collected over 600,000 signatures. Contact Bill Haslam, the governor of Tennessee, or even send a letter to Brown showing your support.

Written by Stephanie Younger, a 16-year-old student activist, organizer and writer who advocates for Womanism, diversity in S.T.E.A.M, the abolition of youth prisons and gun violence prevention

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