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Social Media, Celebrities Rally Support for Child Trafficking Victim #CyntoiaBrown

Cyntoia Brown
Cyntoia Brown became a child sex slave when she was just 16 years old. (Image courtesy of PBS)

A former child sex slave in Nashville, Tenn. will spend the rest of her life behind bars for murdering the man who exploited her.

At just 16 years old, Cyntoia Brown was subjected to physical, sexual and verbal abuse at the hands of a child predator who bought her for sex in 2004. After several years of being trafficked, used and raped repeatedly, Brown finally found the gumption to fight back and kill her abuser. She was charged and sentenced under the law at the time, however, a jury giving her life in prison for her “crime.”

Filmmaker Dan Birman spent seven years documenting Brown’s traumatic case and is now among those working to get the sex trafficking survivor a second chance, according to local station WZTV. Birman’s documentary helped to finally put her childhood horror into words.

“She was picked up by a 43-year-old man,” Birman told the news station. “Cyntoia was 16 just years old … this is a young girl who is at the tail end of three generations of violence against women. She had no chance.”

Brown, her mother and grandmother were all raped, he explained.

During her 2004 trial, Brown testified about the fear and paranoia instilled by her captor, a sharpshooter in the army who constantly held a gun to her. She was also being choked, hit and dragged.

“I’m sitting here thinking if he does something, what am I going to do?” the young teen testified.

Brown was ultimately sentenced to life in jail with the eligibility of parole after serving 51 years, WZTV reported. She’ll be 67 years old. In turn, Birman’s documentary helped change Tennessee’s law for victims like her back in 2011, so that children 18 and younger cannot be charged with prostitution. Had Brown’s case been heard today, the court would treat her as a victim of child sex trafficking rather than a criminal.

“[There’s] no such thing as a child prostitute or a teen prostitute, I think we’ve had to have a cultural mind shift,” Derri Smith, the Founder of End Slavery TN, said.

The International Labour Organization estimates that there are nearly 21 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, 55 percent of them being young women and girls. Endangered runaways often also fall victim to the $150 billion forced labor industry.

More than 13 years later, Brown’s harrowing story is finally getting the attention it deserves with many demanding she gets the justice she was denied so many years ago. Renewed discussion around the case has since sparked viral hashtags on social media, including #JusticeforCyntoiaBrown and #FreeCyntoiaBrown.

Celebrities like Rihanna and Kim Kardashian also weighed in on the case, pointing out the brokenness of the criminal justice system that “enables rapists” and punishes the victim.

“Did we somehow change the definition of “Justice” along the way?” the “Umbrella” singer wrote in an Instagram post. “‘Cause something is horribly wrong when the system enables these rapists and the victim is thrown away for life! To each of you responsible for this child’s sentence, I hope to God you do not have children because this could be your daughter being punished for punishing already! #FreeCyntoiaBrown #HowManyMore”

According to WZTV, a dedicated group of individuals is now working on a clemency campaign for Brown. They’re urging the governor and members of the parole board to consider the unique factors of her case, such as the works she’s done behind bars.

Brown is currently working her Bachelor’s degree while working with the courts and the Juvenile Justice system as an unpaid consultant.

“I myself can create opportunities to help people [behind bars]” she said.

There’s still hope that Brown will get a second chance herself.

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