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Sex trafficking issues grab celebrity attention

by Shelby Toth - Copy Editor
Wed, Dec 6th 2017 11:00 am
Photos from Wikimedia Commons
Sex trafficking is a large issue worldwide. It is a system which uses women in the worst of ways. When 16-year-old Cyntonia Brown fought back against this system, the law chose to punish her for that.
Photos from Wikimedia Commons Sex trafficking is a large issue worldwide. It is a system which uses women in the worst of ways. When 16-year-old Cyntonia Brown fought back against this system, the law chose to punish her for that.

A case buried in the past has been brought back to recent news due to a renewed celebrity interest.

Let’s start with the facts of the case. According to the CNN, Cyntoia Brown was 16-years-old when, after running away from an abusive home, she met a pimp named “Cut Throat.” Cut Throat eventually started to physically and sexually abuse Brown, before forcing her into prostitution. She was eventually solicited by 43-year-old Johnny Mitchell Allan, who picked her up near a parking lot and took her back to his house. According to Brown, she saw a gun cabinet in Allan’s bedroom. She then pushed back against all of Allan’s advances, which prompted him to, as Brown said, appear to reach under the bed to potentially get a gun or something else to hurt her with. She then took a gun out of her own purse and shot Allan dead.

While this appears to be a clear-cut case of self-defense, the courts disagreed. The prosecution claimed that Brown’s actions were for burglary purposes as opposed to her protecting herself. Brown did take his wallet and no one can particularly argue that. With the situation she was in, addicted to drugs and alcohol and stuck in a prostitution ring, it is understandable to desire extra cash. However, this move cost her big time in the courts, and she was tried as an adult. Her 2006 conviction was for first degree murder, first degree felony murder and aggravated robbery. Her sentence included life with eight additional years. While the case went to the Supreme Court in 2012, and it decided to ban mandatory life without parole for juveniles, it only moved Brown’s case to allow her to receive parole when she is 69-years-old. 

This seems almost ancient now, but the case has recently been brought into mainstream attention. As reported by The New York Times, multiple celebrities have been sharing an image that describes Brown’s case, as well as including their own captions. Kim Kardashian West tweeted, “The system has failed. It’s heartbreaking to see a young girl sex trafficked then when she has the courage to fight back is jailed for life! We have to do better & do what’s right. I’ve called my attorneys yesterday to see what can be done to fix this. #FreeCyntoiaBrown”.

Other celebrities who shared the image included Rihanna, LeBron James, Snoop Dogg and Cara Delevingne. This kind of big-name celebrity action has the potential to bring awareness to an issue, in a way that petitions begun by ordinary people cannot. 

“We were very, very appreciative of the fact that such an incredible number of celebrities would join our plea,” said lawyer Charles Bone, a man based out of Nashville who took Brown’s case pro bono seven years ago and spoke to her over the phone on Tuesday, Nov. 28. “She was thrilled by the fact that people really cared.”

Hopefully, the public spotlight on this case will push state legislators into action. Back in 2016, a state representative named Jeremy Faison, who was working closely with Brown and keeping in steady contact with her, introduced a bill into the state legislature that would “require reviews of life sentences for juveniles after they serve 15 years in prison.” Unfortunately, this bill was hardly favorable to many, and was promptly defeated. While this is a bigger type of fish to fry, Bone has been focusing primarily on trying to reduce Brown’s sentence. He is pushing for multiple ways to get Brown the justice she deserves, such as calling for a retrial, arguing that she was punished “cruelly and unusually,” and submitting a habeas corpus petition to the Court of Appeals. While the petition has been received, there has been no luck thus far. The renewed attention for the case could prove beneficial.

And by all means, if anyone deserves a second chance it is Cyntoia Brown. She was wrongfully and severely punished for a crime she committed at the young age of 16, while she lived a life of confusion, surrounded by things no child should have to deal with. What’s more, she has acted as all but completely saint-like in prison, acquiring a G.E.D. and an associates degree from a private Christian college, Lipscomb University. She is hoping to gain a bachelor’s degree by next year and hopes to become an advocate for stopping sex trafficking.

“Seldom do you have someone as articulate as she is, with the ability to say: ‘I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and I want to speak out, to let the world know that this is indeed an awful problem,’” Bone said. 

While the prosecution of Brown’s original case still argues that she was not in fact the victim of the case, whether she actually was or not is besides the point. Yes, I do believe that she was a victim of a system and set of circumstances set up against her, but the most important thing is that she was still a kid when all this happened. Maybe she was forced to mentally grow up sooner, but that doesn’t justify sticking a child in jail for her entire life, or close to it. Brown was wrongfully sentenced to a life-ending amount of jail time, and there should be justice.

 

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