Advocates and prominent celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Rihanna are demanding justice for Cyntoia Brown, a 29-year-old victim of sex trafficking sentenced to life in prison for shooting her abuser after being forced into prostitution at just 16 years old.
Cyntoia Brown shot and killed her abuser, 43-year-old real estate agent Johnny Allen, in 2004 in Nashville after he had paid her for sex. She has already served nearly 13 years in prison and, according to Newsweek, will be eligible for parole after serving 51 years behind bars.
Filmmaker Dan Birman, whose 2011 film Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story documented seven years of Brown’s case, detailed the abuse Brown endured during the 2004 trial, citing instances of being dragged, choked, and hit. Brown also detailed being fearful of Allen, saying: “He was a sharp shooter in the Army. I’m sitting here thinking if he does something, what am I going to do?”
Following Fox 17 News’ investigation, the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown entered the social media lexicon — sparking national interest in the case. So who exactly is Cyntoia Brown? Here are five things you should know about the sex trafficking victim jailed for killing her abuser and her case.
1At 16, Cyntoia Brown was a victim of sex trafficking after running away from home
In 2004, Brown was living with a 24-year-old man known as “Cut-throat” who repeatedly abused her and forced her into prostitution. From there, she met the 43-year-old Johnny Allen, who took her to his home and paid her for sex. During the 2004 trial, Brown detailed the abuses she endured by Allen and how he would frequently point a gun at her.
2Birman’s documentary helped change Tennessee law to protect children like Brown
According to Fox 17 Nashville, Birman’s Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story not only brought Brown’s narrative to light but changed Tennessee law in 2011, detailing that “now, anyone 18 or younger can’t even be charged with prostitution.”
“[There’s] no such thing as a child prostitute or a teen prostitute, I think we’ve had to have a cultural mind shift,” said Derri Smith, the founder of End Slavery TN.
3Cyntoia Brown won’t be eligible for parole until she’s 67 years old
In Tennessee, there’s a law that requires review of life-sentence terms for teenagers after 51 years, and lawmakers are hoping to pass legislation to allow review after 15 or 20 years, as opposed to 51. The legislation has been introduced twice but has been unsuccessful.
4Cyntoia Brown graduated from Lipscomb University and obtained an Associate’s Degree from behind bars
Brown graduated from Lipscomb University in December 2015 and obtained an Associate’s degree while in prison, and is also working toward obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree, according to Fox 17 Nashville.
5She has also worked with the juvenile justice system behind bars
Brown has also worked as an unpaid consultant with the juvenile justice system while in prison.
In the Fox 17 Nashville report, Kathryn Sinback, the juvenile court administrator of Davidson County in Nashville, said about Brown: “She has used her experience to be able to make things better, juvenile justice, human trafficking and safety and security for youth and so I think what she has to offer is invaluable.”