Lacy Atkins/The Tennessean

By Stephanie Younger •

When she was 16, Cyntoia Brown lived in a hotel with an adult who sexually enslaved her, assaulted her, and threatened her. In 2004, another white man who sexually enslaved and abused Brown, and often intimidated her with guns. Out of fear, she shot him, was arrested, tried as an adult, charged with first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

When Brown was 24, she was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, as a result of her mother drinking during her pregnancy, and her disability wasn’t taken into consideration. “We have a situation where a 16-year-old child who operates at a 10-year-old level, who has organic brain damage and it was never presented by the jury,” said Brown’s attorney, J. Houston Gourd in the 2011 PBS Documentary, “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story.” According to an article on Refinery29, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that a now 30-year-old Cyntoia Brown must serve 51 years in prison before gaining eligibility for parole.

To fight for intersectionality means to give the Cyntoia Brown the same attention and support that was given to white women who are survivors of sexual assault. Black women didn’t get a lot of news coverage, hashtags, and school walkouts in their support when they shared their stories. Not only are Black women being left out of the conversation, but they are also being criminalized for being survivors. Brown was tried as an adult and sentenced to life for defending herself. Black women experience adultification, criminalization and violence from the prison system on top of experiencing sexual violence at disproportionate rates. We must recognize this as one of the ways the prison industrial complex hurts Black women. Our voices, narratives and experiences must be centered in conversations about sexual violence and state violence.

Right now, we can support Cyntoia Brown by sending letters and cards with messages of solidarity, and fight for her freedom by calling Bill Haslam, the governor of Tennessee, and demanding clemency for her. Additionally, it is imperative that we stay committed to the fight against human trafficking, slavery, criminalization of lack girls, and abolition of the prison industrial complex.

Call Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s Office: (615) 741-2001

Send a Letter to Cyntoia Brown: TN Prison For Women 3881 Stewarts Lane Nashville, TN 37218-3302

Stephanie Younger is a 16-year-old who advocates for womanism and the abolition of youth prisons.