WASHINGTON – Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s decision to grant full clemency to Cyntoia Brown was the right thing to do, but it doesn’t erase the injustice she endured. The criminalization of the trauma she suffered as a victim of sex trafficking and abuse is reprehensible and unacceptable.
Cyntoia Brown was 16 when she was trafficked to a man who hit her, choked her, and dragged her across the floor. When she thought he was reaching for a gun, the teenager shot her abuser. For this action, she was tried as an adult, then convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison – with the possibility of parole only after serving 51 years behind bars.
Tennessee’s parole board gave the governor a split recommendation, with some on the panel recommending early release and others suggesting she stay in prison until she was 69 years old. Questions need to be asked about the state of justice in Tennessee, and how the legal system fails victims of abuse and trafficking like Cyntoia Brown.
Because of a PBS documentary and vocal support from high-profile celebrities who rallied to her cause, Cyntoia Brown’s case received plenty of attention in the public spotlight. However, countless other young women languish in prisons for similar reasons, without the benefit of superstar endorsement.
Cyntoia Brown completed her GED and got a college degree while in prison, and she has said she hopes to start a nonprofit to pursue social justice issues. Her dedication to this cause is inspiring, and her voice and experience will have a tremendous impact.
NOW applauds Gov. Haslam for listening to our demands – along with the demands of thousands of other advocates – to award Cyntoia Brown a full commutation. However, this story of injustice does not end in August when Cyntoia walks out of prison. The National Organization for Women, the people of Tennessee, and concerned citizens everywhere need to demand an end to the criminalization of trauma, especially towards women and girls of color. Only when we see an end to sex trafficking and violence against women and girls will justice be served.