A woman convicted of killing a man after he solicited her for sex when she was a teenager won’t become eligible for release until she serves more than five decades in prison, according to recent reports.
In a unanimous decision announced late last week, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that defendants serving life sentences for first-degree murders allegedly committed after July 1, 1995, such as Cyntoia Brown, must serve a minimum of 51 years in prison before they can be eligible for release.
“Under state law, a life sentence is a determinate sentence of 60 years,” CNN has reported the Tennessee Supreme Court wrote in a statement. “However, the sixty-year sentence can be reduced by up to 15 percent, or nine years, by earning various sentence credits.”
She was given a hearing in May, according to The New York Times. But following the hearing, Tennessee’s six-member parole board was divided two, two, and two on whether or not to recommend Brown to Gov. Bill Haslam for clemency, CNN has reported. According to the cable news network, two of the board’s members voted to recommend Brown’s application for clemency, two voted against it, and two voted for Brown to be eligible for parole after she’d served 25 years of her sentence.
Thursday’s ruling from the Tennessee Supreme Court came after the lower court hearing Brown’s appeal asked it to clarify exactly when those serving life sentences become eligible for parole. It is unclear when the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals may rule on Brown’s appeal in light of Thursday’s ruling.
Our friends at the Wichita State University, Center for Combating Human Trafficking said, “We are disappointed but know it’s not over yet,” after the announcement on the decision was made.
But wait…have you heard of Cyntoia Brown?
You may have seen posts circulating around social media about someone named Cyntoia Brown, but you might not know who she is or why her story matters to our movement to end sexual exploitation and educate on the proven harmful effects of pornography.
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. In court documents, Brown said she thought the man was reaching under the bed for a gun when she shot him with the handgun she kept in her purse.
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 2017, 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:
The same post was later shared by Kim Kardashian, Cara Delevigne, and other celebrities, journalists, and activists, who questioned why an underage girl trafficked into selling sex 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.
But amid all of the 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.  The landmark legislation identified “severe forms” of human trafficking, imposed harsh criminal penalties for offenders, and provided support systems for the victims. 
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.” 
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.
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.
Even as her case receives national attention, 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 a 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?
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.
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.
SHARE this article to raise awareness about sex trafficking, and shine a light on the fact that “child prostitute” also means “child sex trafficking victim.”