What Most People Get Wrong About the Case of Cyntoia Brown

By KC

#StopTheDemand
Human trafficking isn’t only a third-world issue or a dramatic film plot. Sex trafficking is a global epidemic that affects 4.5 million men, women, and children everywhere—it can happen across the world or in your own backyard. #StopTheDemand shines a light on the victims and survivors of sex trafficking while raising awareness about one of the main sources that drives the demand for sexual exploitation in the first place: pornography. Join us in fighting exploitation and supporting survivors.

Have you heard of Cyntoia Brown?

You may have seen posts circulating around social media about something called a “clemency hearing” that’s going on today, but before we talk about that, we’ll give you some background on her and why her story matters to this cause.

Brown is serving a life sentence for the murder of a Nashville man in 2004. According to Brown, after a childhood marked by abuse and drugs, she was raped and forced into prostitution by a pimp, and ended up killing one of her buyers out of self-defense when she was just 16 years old. Despite her youth, she was tried as an adult and given a life sentence, only eligible for parole when she’s 67 years old. Brown is 30 years old, now.

Back in November, her case came back into the spotlight because of this summary of her tragic story was shared by more than a few celebs. Here’s pop-star Rihanna’s repost of the viral photo:

A post shared by badgalriri (@badgalriri) on

The same post was later shared by Kim Kardashian, Cara Delevigne, and other celebrities, journalists, and activists, who questioned why an underage girl involved in prostitution was given such a harsh sentence.

During her trial, the prosecution argued that the motive for the killing was not self-defense, as Brown claimed, but rather robbery, since Brown took Allan’s wallet after she shot him. She was tried as an adult and convicted of first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder, and aggravated robbery. The convictions carried concurrent life sentences and eight additional years.

Related: How To Spot (And Rescue) A Sex Trafficking Victim

Today at her clemency hearing—a formal hearing in which inmates and/or former inmates can petition the highest authority, like a state governor or the president, to have certain rights be restored or have their sentence moved to time served—two members of the board voted to release Brown, two other denied her request and two more said she should come up for parole after serving 25 years in prison, Tennessee Board of Parole and Probation spokeswoman Melissa McDonald told ABC News. The decision will ultimately be made by Governor Bill Haslam.

But amid all these reports, shares, and conversations about Cyntoia Brown, we’re noticing a glaring problem with the way her background and actions are being talked about. The fact is, there’s no such thing as a child prostitute.

The realities of child exploitation in the U.S.

In the year 2000, in response to reports of international human trafficking, one of the broadest bipartisan coalitions in history came together to pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, or TVPA. [1] The landmark legislation identified “severe forms” of human trafficking, imposed harsh criminal penalties for offenders, and provided support systems for the victims. [2]

The TVPA defines sex trafficking as a situation in which “a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.” [3]

By legal definition, minors who are commercially sold for sex are victims of sex trafficking. And while Cyntoia Brown’s experience seems to fall under this definition, her case isn’t exactly unique.

Related: How Teen Girls Get Tricked Into Doing Porn

About 293,000 U.S. children are at risk of being exploited and trafficked for sex, according to a 2011 FBI report on trafficking. Most are girls ages 12 to 14. They often are abducted or lured by pimps/traffickers, beaten into submission, and sometimes even branded with the pimp’s name.

Across the United States, there are child sex markets not far off from those in Cambodia, Thailand, and India, according to a Washington Post piece by human rights activist Malika Saada Saar. Girls are sold in this country with the same disregard for human dignity, and they are often tortured in the same ways when they try to escape.

Related: Exposing The Disturbing Practice Of Sex Traffickers Using Tattoos To Mark Their Victims

Even as her case receives national attention today, the prosecutor in her case affirms his stance that Cyntoia is not a victim. And yet, such views fail to account for the victimization of this young girl and demonstrate and lack of understanding regarding the complexity of human trafficking, according to the Center for Combating Human Trafficking.

Saar says it well in the Post piece, explaining the issues facing underage victims of sexual exploitation:

“…Should an abused child be incarcerated for the abuses perpetrated against her? The people who rape these girls, the politely termed “johns,” are rarely arrested for statutory rape, child endangerment or sexual assault of a minor.

Perhaps it is too difficult to accept what happens on U.S. soil, to our own daughters. Regardless, we must call this trafficking what it is: serial, systematized rape. And we must care for these girls, too often invisible to society, as victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.

Because there is no such thing as a child prostitute.”

So what do we do?

Regardless of where you stand on the case of Cyntoia Brown, understand that sexual exploitation and sex trafficking happens to underage teens and children across the U.S. every day.

This isn’t an isolated issue, and it isn’t one that’s only located in faraway countries. Not only that, but this also isn’t an issue that’s completely separate from pornography.

It is a sad reality that the porn industry fuels (and fantasizes) real situations of sexual exploitation: real people being sexually abused and exploited at the hands of family members, traffickers, and pimps. Each click to porn content directly fuels the demand for sex traffickers to make money by selling videos and images of their sex slaves to porn sites. But what about major porn studios and porn sites—aren’t they completely separate from the sexual exploitation issue?

Absolutely not.

After all, when someone is sex trafficked, there are often videos and images taken of them for commercial purposes, like advertising them online. Consider how, in one survey, 63% of underage sex trafficking victims said they had been advertised or sold online.

Related: How Street Gangs Make Big Money By Trafficking 14-Year-Old Girls For Sex

Also consider how with one simple Google search, hardcore pornographic videos can be found, depicting prostituted persons being used, abused, discarded, and sometimes killed by sex buyers.

Not only does porn fuel these scenarios in reality, it normalizes them in fantasy.

Bottom line: there is no such thing as a “child prostitute,” only an underage victim of sex trafficking. Fighting for real love and healthy relationships while calling out sexual exploitation where it thrives means getting support for victims and survivors of trafficking, regardless of their age, background, or profession. No child’s sexual abuse—or anyone’s for that matter—deserves to be depicted as a sexual fantasy.

Get Involved

SHARE this article to raise awareness about sex trafficking, and participate in the #StopTheDemand campaign on the Fighter App.

If you’re interested in working directly with sex trafficking survivors, HELP International and FTND are offering an all-expense paid volunteer trip to Nepal to the grand-prize winner of our #StopTheDemand campaign. Our Co-Founder and President Clay Olsen is volunteering at the Nepal Shelter in June, and the #StopTheDemand campaign winner will work alongside our Executive Director Natale McAneney during the 11-day August volunteer trip being given away.

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Citations

[1] Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) Of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106–386, Section 102(A), 114 Stat. 1464.
[2] Trafficking Victims Protection Act. (2009, November 29). Retrieved From Https://Fightslaverynow.Org/Why-Fight-There-Are-27-Million-Reasons/The-Law-And-Trafficking/Trafficking-Victims-Protection-Act/Trafficking-Victims-Protection-Act/
[3] Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) Of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106–386, Section 102(A), 114 Stat. 1464.

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