Who is Cyntoia Brown? Social media rallies around the child sex slave sent to prison for killing her abuser
A film that sheds light on Cyntoia Brown, a young girl imprisoned for killing the man who solicited her as a 16-year-old child sex slave, hopes to set her free. In 2004, Brown stepped into Johnny Mitchell Allen’s pickup truck after the 43-year-old Nashville real estate agent solicited her for sex. They drove to his home, went into his bed and soon after, Brown shot him in the back of the head with a .40-caliber handgun as he lay naked beside her.
During her trial in 2004, Brown testified that she was choked, beaten and raped frequently in her home and threatened at gunpoint. Her lawyers tried to argue that this kind of environment and the trauma she suffered as a child is what led her to shoot Allen after he paid her for sex.
She was sentenced to life in prison at the Tennessee Prison for Women with a chance of parole at age 67, despite having been abused in raped repeatedly as a victim of sex trafficking. In the film about her case — headed by filmmaker Dan Birman — Brown explains her abuse and how it made her paranoid.
“This is a young girl who’s at the tail end of three generations of violence against women,” Birman told Fox 17 News.
“Imagine at the age of 16 being sex-trafficked by a pimp named “cut-throat,” the Instagram post featuring a picture of Brown from filmmaker Daniel Birman’s 2011 documentary following her case reads. “After days of being repeatedly drugged and raped by different men, you were purchased by a 43-year-old child predator who took you to his home to use you for sex. You end up finding enough courage to fight back and shoot and kill him.”
Cyntoia, her grandmother, and mother were all raped he explains. “She had no chance.” Following her case for seven years, the film was so impactful that it helped change Tennessee laws for children like Brown in 2011. Now, anyone 18 or younger can’t even be charged with prostitution. But despite its impact, Brown still sits in jail after a traumatic childhood that led to the fatal incident.
On social media and in her hometown there’s been a rallying cry to get Brown out of jail by presenting her case to the Governor and the Parole Board. Now 28 years old, Brown has completed her associate’s degree and is now working on her master’s. In December 2016, pictures of her receiving her associate’s from Lipscomb University’s in-jail program showed a hopeful Brown.
Derri Smith, the Founder of End Slavery TN, spoke candidly to Fox 17 News about Brown’s case. “She did kill someone, she deeply regrets it, but she was a child and she was being exploited,” Smith said. “[There’s] no such thing as a child prostitute or a teen prostitute. I think we’ve had to have a cultural mind shift.”
Celebrities Using Their Platform and Power To Bring Awareness
Despite being convicted of first-degree murder back in 2004, Cyntoia Brown, 28, is making national attention. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian, 37, and Rihanna, 29, have recently come to her defense, arguing that Cyntoia, a victim of sex trafficking who killed the 43-year-old child predator who reportedly raped her when she was 16, is a victim of a “failed” justice system that’s gone “horribly wrong.”
One of Cyntoia’s attorneys J. Houston Gordon EXCLUSIVELY told us that her legal team hasn’t given up on Cyntoia. “We’re appealing her case now on the Habeus Corpus Petition,” J. Houston said. “The original trial attorneys tried the case, went through the court of criminal appeals, and the Tennessee Supreme court in the ordinary course of things. ‘
Then we filed a post-conviction relief request in the trial court, which was denied. It was denied in the court of criminal appeals and the Supreme court did not see fit to hear it… Then we filed a petition for Habeus Corpus in the United States District court of criminal appeals and the Supreme court did not see fit to hear it… Then we filed a petition for Habeus Corpus in the United States District court in Nashville and that was denied by Judge Nixon, Judge Crenshaw denied our motion to alter or amend, and now we’re up on appeal at the Sixth Circuit (United States Court of Appeals). That’s the standing on the case.”
In addition to saying that there’s “validity” to Cyntoia’s position, J. Houston noted, “Cyntoia Brown is a remarkable, personable, intelligent, caring, amazing young woman who has taken the worst of her circumstances and done the best you can imagine. She’s educated herself, gotten an Associate’s degree and she is an exemplary prisoner, if you will. She’s done extremely well, and she has a great attitude.”
When it comes to his outlook on Cyntoia’s appeals, J. Houston is optimistic. “We’re still fighting the good fight,” he added. “We started the conversation (with Brown being) a young girl who’s at the tail end of three generations of violence against women,” he told Tennessee’s Fox17 Nashville. “She had no chance.”
Back then, it did not matter during her trial and sentencing that Brown was a child, but since Birman’s documentary, the laws in Tennessee have changed. A person now has to be 18 or older to be charged for prostitution and children are automatically considered the victim in sex trafficking cases.
Brown is now 29 and has already been imprisoned for nearly 13 years. In that time she’s completed her associate’s degree through Lipscomb University’s in-jail program, is reportedly working on her Bachelor’s and is a volunteer with the Juvenile Justice association.
A MoveOn petition aimed at Brown’s freedom through a presidential pardon is currently circulating online. It’s garnered nearly 124,000 signatures to date.