The international conversation about sexual assault and harassment has cast a new spotlight on an old case.
Cyntoia Brown – who said she had been forced into prostitution by a violent boyfriend – is serving a life sentence for the 2004 murder of a 43-year-old stranger who picked her up and took her to his home. She was 16 at the time, and she won’t be eligible for parole until she is in her late 60s.
Cytoia Brown in 2004 received life in prison for killing a white man who abducted her and raped her day in & out. When President Obama wanted to reform the justice system in US he was blocked by white congress and Senate. #FreeCyntoiaBrown pic.twitter.com/htNckQd8CD
— Not Adv Ngcukaitobi (@AdvNgcukaitobi) November 23, 2017
Brown is now 28, and this week celebrities have taken up the Tennessee case under the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown. A social media posting went viral after Rihanna put it on Instagram on Tuesday.
Kim Kardashian also tweeted about the case on Tuesday, writing “I’ve called my attorneys yesterday to see what can be done to fix this.”
“The system has failed,” Kardashian wrote. “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.”
— NATALIE🌟🕊 (@Nataliecuellar9) November 22, 2017
“The justice system is so backwards!!!” Cara Delevingne posted on Instagram. “This is completely insane.”
Snoop Dogg posted a side-by-side comparison of the acts and sentences of Brown and Brock Turner, who had been sentenced to six months for sexual assault. (He was released after three).
The calls to free Brown come as stories of sexual assault by powerful men have dominated the news cycle, and after a slew of celebrities also took up rapper Meek Mill’s case, who was sentenced to two to four years for a parole violation.
We live in a world where a teenager is incarcerated for killing the man who bought her & engaged in non consensual sex. We live in a world with a jury that saw prostitution, murder, and stealing rather than self-defense, rape, & a traumatized teenager escaping. #FreeCyntoiaBrown
— Venkayla Haynes (@VenkaylaHaynes) November 22, 2017
An online petition calling for Brown’s release has garnered more than 200,000 signatures.
Last week, the Nashville Fox affiliate ran a story about Brown and showed portions of a 2011 documentary, “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story,” in which filmmaker Dan Birman explored Brown’s familial legacy of abuse, and her own history of being sex trafficked.
— Shana Joseph (@Shana_Aaliyah) November 22, 2017
“We started the conversation,” Birman told the Fox affiliate. “This is a young girl who’s at the tail end of three generations of violence against women.”
“Me Facing Life” also helped spark a push in Tennessee to reform the state’s juvenile justice laws.
During the trial, Brown said a stranger, Johnny Mitchell Allen, had taken her to his home and had told her about his numerous guns. Brown said Allen reached under a bed for what she thought was a gun, so she pulled a handgun out of her purse and shot him. She then took two guns and some money from his wallet, and drove his truck to a Walmart parking lot.
Brown was tried as an adult. The jury rejected her self-defence claim.
Derri Smith, CEO of End Slavery Tennessee, said in a statement that Brown does not deny killing Allen, but is asking for her sentence to be changed to second-degree murder.
The advocate also highlighted the support from Rihanna, Kardashian and other celebrities.
“Think about Ashton Kutcher and the difference he has made around the issue of human trafficking,” Smith said. “Celebrities can use their platform to begin a conversation about societal issues.”
Brown’s supporters can help by sending letters to the head of the state’s parole board and the governor, backing Brown’s clemency petition, Smith added.
Had Brown been charged today, “she would have been seen as a victim. She would not have been tagged a ‘teen prostitute’ as she was in trial,” Smith argued. “There is NO such thing as a teen prostitute. Any minor used for commercial sex is a human trafficking victim.”
During her time incarcerated, Brown received an associate’s degree. She has “served time and used it well, to help other youth raised similarly to her,” Smith said.
The global spotlight is now on ongoing, systemic harassment of and violence against women as women from all walks of life – from celebrities to ordinary South Africans – come forward to support victims with the rallying cry… #metoo
Independent Media has launched its Don’t Look Away campaign in support of 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women and Children which runs globally from November 25 to December 10.
Statistics SA show that 21 percent of women older than 18 have been violently abused by their domestic partners. One in four women has experienced gender-based violence. More than 100 people are raped each day. The Medical Research Council estimates that half of South Africa’s children will be abused before they turn 18. It doesn’t end there.
November 25 is the start of 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women and Children, and all Independent Media titles will be taking a hard look at the statistics.
Abuse in all its forms affects millions of people, whether it is visibly violent in nature or discreet acts of systemic abuse – slut-shaming, body-shaming, harassment and the continued debasement of women and children. The statistics go on, but the violence can stop, with your help.
Raise awareness by supporting the many initiatives that are being hosted in your communities during the campaign. Paint your fingernail Orange, wear Orange, join the marches, take to social media.
Just Don’t Look Away.
Call it out when you encounter behaviour that seeks to debase and dehumanise women, get involved in a local organisation that supports women and children victims. We will be featuring them during this campaign. We will also turn the spotlight on non-government and community-based organisations that work to provide help, support, shelter and compassion to victims and survivors as well as let you know every day in this newspaper, the local activities that you can get involved in.
Use these 16 days to reflect on what we are doing wrong and how we may be, with our own silence or behaviour, empowering, protecting or enabling those who abuse our children and women. Examine new or alternative ways to raise our children, free of violence.
Whatever you do …
Don’t Look Away.