Rihanna, Kim Kardashian call attention to plight of sex-trafficking victim serving life for murder committed as a teen

Cyntoia Brown (YouTube)

Debate has reignited on social media about the plight of a Tennessee woman who was sentenced in 2004 to life in prison for first-degree murder, and has been incarcerated for the last 13 years. Cyntoia Brown had been forced into prostitution by her boyfriend and then killed a client that she believed was preparing to shoot her. Brown, then just 16 years old, had been living with her 24-year-old boyfriend, a man ominously nicknamed “Cut-throat,” who she says had abused her physically and sexually, and forced her into a life of prostitution so that they could afford living expenses.

“He would explain to me that some people were born whores, and that I was one, and I was a slut, and nobody’d want me but him, and the best thing I could do was just learn to be a good whore,” Brown testified during her trial.

Brown said that, as a young teenager, she was strung out on drugs after being traumatized by repeated rapes during the weeks leading up to the killing. Then one evening in August of 2004, she climbed into the back of a truck belonging to 43-year-old real estate agent Johnny Mitchell Allen, who took him to her home. Brown has said that Allen’s house was full of guns and that he kept getting up and standing over her while she tried to sleep. Eventually, Brown testified, she panicked when he appeared to be reaching for his gun and she fatally shot Allen in the head with a gun she carried in her purse.

New attention has been drawn to her plight due to a number of advocates and celebrities speaking out on social media about her case, and calling for her to be freed. On Tuesday, Rihanna posted to Instagram using the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown, and questioned whether justice is being served by locking up a victim who “after days of being repeatedly drugged and raped by different men … [ended] up finding enough courage to fight back.”

Kim Kardashian West was among a number of celebrities who joined in the #FreeCyntoiaBrown movement, writing on Twitter that she planned to contact her attorneys “to see what can be done to fix this.”

While the Supreme Court has banned mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles as cruel and unusual punishment, Brown’s punishment is technically allowed since the state allows for automatic parole reviews after 51 years — a timeframe that critics say amounts to a life sentence. At least 183 people in Tennessee are serving life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles. Below, watch a PBS documentary on Brown, which includes much of her courtroom testimony and paints the full portrait of the tragic course her life was put on basically at birth.

Read the full story at The Tennessean.


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