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.”
She then met Johnny Allen, a 43 year old real estate agent who solicited her for sex. According to Fox 17 News Nashville, she was physically abused, and “there was always a gun being pointed at her.” Fearing for her life, Brown fatally shot Allen and was sentenced to life. 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 when she was legally a child is not unique. A study released by Georgetown Law stated that Black girls experience adultification starting at age five. 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. They 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 abuse. 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, they are being criminalized for being survivors. Brown was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison for defending herself. Being intersectional in the fight against sexual violence and human trafficking can protect Black women like Cyntoia Brown from being targeted by America’s racially unjust criminal justice system.
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 by calling his office at (615) 741-2001) and emailing him at email@example.com. You can even send a letter to Brown showing your support.
Tennessee Prison for Women 2 North, B49 3881 Stewarts Lane Nashville, TN 37218-3302
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