Justice For Cyntoia Brown—We Must End the Criminalization of Trauma

Statement by NOW President Toni Van Pelt

12.11.2018

WASHINGTON — Justice has failed Cyntoia Brown so many times. At the age of two, Brown was put up for adoption, and when she was 16 she was sold as a sex slave to a 43-year old Nashville man. This perpetrator held a gun on her and hit, choked and dragged her during her captivity. Fearing for her life, she shot the man when she thought he was reaching for a gun.

Although she was still 16, Brown was tried as an adult, and a jury convicted her of first-degree murder, with a sentence of life in prison. Under the then-Tennessee law, she would only be eligible for release after serving 51 years of her sentence.

The law in Tennessee has since changed—in part because Cyntoia Brown’s case so horrified the public and lawmakers. Now, anyone 18 or younger cannot even be charged with prostitution.  But Cyntoia Brown is imprisoned with no hope of release for the next half-century.

It’s time for justice for Cyntoia Brown. NOW supports her appeal and also the lawsuit challenging her sentence as unconstitutional under the U.S. Supreme Court’s challenge to mandatory life sentences without the chance of parole for juvenile offenders.

NOW further supports Cyntoia Brown’s bid for clemency from Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.  It shames us as a society if we are to consign a life that has known nothing but abuse to a life sentence in prison—all before she was even old enough to vote.

We must end the criminalization of trauma.  Cyntoia Brown inspires us to push even harder for justice, fairness and healing—but first, Cyntoia Brown must be heard.

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