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Today, August 7th, 2019 Cyntoia Brown finally walked free after 15 years in prison. Her crime? Defending herself after a prolonged experience of abuse and sex trafficking. Her story is sadly not unique, as countless women of color or victims of sex trafficking or intimate abuse who eventually defend themselves wind-up prosecuted and incarcerated despite being the victims of horrific crimes.
In fact, when you compare the sentences that women who fight back against their abusers receive versus sentences for those who kill their intimate partners or abuse them, it’s easy to see that there seems to be a systemic bias against women defending themselves against violent men.
Cyntoia Brown ran away from home in 2004, many years after her biological mother put her up for adoption. Like many children who flee abuse, Cyntoia found herself homeless and struggling to survive. She wound up dependent on a violent man who pushed her into sex trafficking. She was a teenage girl forced into involuntary prostitution.
One night, things went too far. A man picked her up and bought her dinner before taking her back to his house. After negotiating a price, Cyntoia eventually shot the man and fled the house in his stolen truck. She also took his wallet and several other possessions. Unsure of what to do, the teenage girl returned to the man who had forced her into prostitution and was soon after arrested.
The state of Tennessee chose to charge her and try her as an adult, despite the fact that she was a traumatized 16 year old. She has been in prison for 15 years, but today she finally walked free. The former governor of Tennessee granted her clemency for the crime although it took months for her release to come through. With hard work from many activists and media attention on her case, she was finally freed after serving a decade-and-a-half of what would have been a life sentence given to her as a teenager.