Cyntoia Brown was 16 years old when she was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in 2006. Now she must serve 51 years behind bars before she's eligible for parole, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled on Dec. 6, as The Tennessean reported. But this case isn't as cut and dry as it might appear on the surface; Brown is a sex trafficking victim who claims she acted out of self-defense. If you're upset about the ruling and wondering how you can support her now, here's how you can help Cyntoia Brown.
Brown, a Tennessee native, was placed in the foster care system when she was a baby, according to People. Brown later found an adoptive family, but she became a teen runaway at 16, eventually going to live with her 24-year-old boyfriend who was known as “Kut Throat" in 2004, according to Rolling Stone. Brown claims Kut Throat repeatedly raped her and forced her into prostitution, a dangerous situation that came to a head on the night of Aug. 6, 2004. Brown claims Kut Throat forced her to solicit sex, which is how she met 43-year-old real estate agent Johnny Allen, according to HuffPost.
The two went back to Allen's home to have sex, according to The New York Times, but things escalated after Brown suspected her life was in danger. When Allen reached under his bed for something, Brown assumed he was looking for a gun, so she shot and killed him in self-defense, according to NBC News. Prosecutors, however, allege Brown intended to rob and murder Allen that night.
Brown, who was 16 at the time, was sentenced to two concurrent life sentences (a life sentence is 60 years) for the crime, as CNN reported. Her lawyers argue that the ruling is unconstitutional, as a 2012 opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court says "mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders violate the U.S. Constitution," according to CNN. The Tennessee Supreme Court, however, ruled that Brown's case isn't unconstitutional because "under state law, a life sentence is a determinate sentence of 60 years," according to court documents.
Translation: Since Brown's prison sentence is 51 years (her sentence was reduced due to model behavior, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) it's technically constitutional under state law. Brown's case is now headed to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, where this new opinion will be heard, as The Tennessean reported.
Not only is it upsetting that Brown is facing further punishment because she reduced her own life sentence for good behavior, but it's incredibly troubling that a sex trafficking victim is in this predicament to begin with. Sex trafficking victims, especially those who are forced into it as children, should never be treated like criminals.
So here's how you can help Brown's case.
Sign The Petitions
There are a lot of petitions floating around in support of Brown. One you can sign — via MoveOn — is petitioning Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to grant clemency, a cause that has 568,419 signatures as of Tuesday.
Another petition via Change.Org is pushing for a re-trial of Brown's case, and it has 312,508 signatures as of Tuesday.
Educate Yourself & Others
Misconceptions about sex trafficking are all too common. One example? Some people believe victims can easily walk away from their abusers if they want to. It's important to realize, however, that "victims of human trafficking often do not immediately seek help or self-identify as victims of a crime due to a variety of factors, including lack of trust, self-blame, or specific instructions by the traffickers regarding how to behave when talking to law enforcement or social services," according to the Human Trafficking Hotline.
If there is more awareness about sex trafficking, the justice system might approach these types of cases differently. Sex trafficking victims — especially those under 18 — shouldn't be treated or prosecuted like criminals.
Educating yourself and others is a good first step to achieve this goal. You can watch documentaries about the topic or visit advocacy websites to start.
Call Tennessee's Governor
Get your phone out because it's time to call Haslam about Brown's case. Call (615)-741-2001 and ask Haslam to pardon or commute Brown's sentence. If you're not a fan of the phone, you can email him at Bill.Haslam@tn.gov.
Even if you aren't a resident of Tennessee, you can still encourage your friends or family in the state to reach out. Or you can tweet Haslam about Brown's case.
Join The Women's Wave March
On Jan. 19, the Women's Wave march will take place in Washington, D.C. and cities across the United States. March to support Brown and others who've been failed by the criminal justice system.
Join Efforts To Stop Sex Trafficking
If you feel helpless about the sex trafficking epidemic, know that there are ways for you to help. You can learn how to identify a sex trafficking victim, for example, or you can host an awareness-raising event in your area.
There are 13 other examples on the U.S. Department of State's website for you to check out.
Donate To Groups Combatting Sex Trafficking
Another positive way to fight this epidemic? Donate money to groups fighting sex trafficking, like Stop The Traffik. The holiday season is the perfect time to chip in to support this important cause.
Reach Out To High-Profile People
Remember that time Kim Kardashian helped to free 63-year-old Alice Marie Johnson, a woman serving a life sentence for a non-violent drug offense? Yep, that happened.
Reaching out to public figures can help raise awareness about Brown's case.
Brown — as well as other sex trafficking victims out there — deserve justice. With the public's support, Brown is one step closer to achieving this goal.