The case of Cyntoia Brown has been of much interest to many within the Sex Work community. The clemency that was recently granted to Miss Brown is seen by many as a victory for justice for a young woman who was the victim of sex trafficking. Many people feel that she was unjustly sent to prison or that her original sentence was far too harsh. But not everyone within our community is in agreement about her case and her impending release from prison.
A Little History
For those who are not familiar with the story of Cyntoia Brown, let me give a brief history.
Miss Brown was born to an addict mother and an unknown father. She was adopted at a young age but did not have easy upbringing. She ran away from home as a teenager and came under the control of a pimp/boyfriend. While with him she was forced into prostitution. She was also repeatedly a victim of her pimp’s violence and sexual abuse.
On August 6, 2004 Miss Brown was working as a street prostitute and was picked up by Johnny Mitchell Allen in Nashville, Tennessee. They went to his house to have sex. During their time together, Miss Brown shot and killed Allen with a pistol that she carried in her purse. She then robbed him and stole his truck, returning to her pimp.
Miss Brown, though only 16 years old at the time, was arrested, tried, and convicted of murder and other charges. Her sentence was life in prison, with a minimum incarceration of 51 years.
After unsuccessful appeals and some significant media attention, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam commuted Brown’s sentence to 15 years, including time served, on January 7, 2019. Miss Brown is scheduled for release from prison on August 7, 2019.
Justice For Miss Brown
Many Sex Workers, Sex Work advocates, and justice reform advocates consider this clemency to be justice for Miss Brown. She is viewed by many as a victim in this case, not a criminal. Miss Brown claimed in the past that she was acting out of self-defense when she shot Allen, and out of a sense of survival when stealing from him.
It is the viewpoint of many that the real perpetrators of this violence were Brown’s pimp, a man known as “Kut-Throat”, and Mr. Allen. The pimp was shot and killed in 2005.
Miss Brown has become a focal point in the political movement against sex trafficking. Her case has been used to highlight the awful situations that many women face when forced or coerced into prostitution. Her clemency is seen as a victory for the victims of sex trafficking who can often face incarceration while their traffickers remain free (or see much less prison time).
Is This Justice?
I think it is very clear that Miss Brown’s story is a tragic one. She had a poor beginning to this life, one without opportunity and full of hardships. And while we can be sure that she likely made a number of mistakes, she was ultimately the victim of a low-life pimp. I have absolutely no respect for pimps at all. I feel that it was a serious miscarriage of justice that this “Kut-Throat” was not sent to prison at the same time Miss Brown was.
But Miss Brown’s case is not a clear-cut one of a victim just trying to survive. Forensic evidence shows that Mr. Allen was asleep when she shot him in the back of the head. I cannot find a way to call that self-defense. As for her stealing money and items belonging to Allen, I can see this as a part of her survival. It is more than likely that this was not the first time she had stolen from a client. Such behavior is often seen in prostitutes under the control of violent pimps.
As someone who has previously been the victim of violence and robbery by sex workers and their pimps, I have to search very hard to find sympathy for Miss Brown. Her claim that she felt in danger from Mr. Allen could be very legitimate. But the fact that she killed him while he was sleeping is problematic. As a man who routinely enjoys the company of professional Sex Workers, I have not liked the manner in which men like myself have sometimes been talked about by those who advocated for Miss Brown’s clemency. There is no actual evidence that Allen had been violent or threatened violence against her (none that I am aware of). So I do agree with her prosecution for his death.
However, under the circumstances of her overall situation, I believe that her case was not properly handled. She should not have been tried as an adult. Her pimp should have been tried for the murder as well. And Miss Brown should never have been sentenced to such an extreme length or time in prison. While I do not condone Miss Brown’s killing of Allen, I do agree with Gov. Haslam’s decision to grant her clemency and see her released this year.
This case will likely be used against the Consensual Transactional Sex community for years to come. Miss Brown will be often cited as an example of how Sex Workers are all victims and that their clients are all men who are abusing or taking advantage of them. As such, Miss Brown’s clemency is NOT a victory for our community or for Sex Workers. It is a victory for her.
Miss Brown is a victim. She is a victim of a hard life. She is a victim of an unbalanced justice system. And she is certainly a victim of sex trafficking. And that leads to the lesson here. The real culprit: the pimp. He is the one who should have been held most accountable. He is the real danger.
As a community we need to take a clear stand against sex trafficking. This is why I use the term “Consensual Transactional Sex” so often. The work “Consensual” is a key aspect in differentiating between the Sex Workers who are doing what they desire to do and those who are the victims of pimps & traffickers. We need new legislation that specifically targets pimps and traffickers, while giving freedom to consenting adults to do what they want to do. Sex Workers and their clients are not the problem. Pimps and traffickers who force women into sex are. They are the ones who need to be stopped. They need to face justice.
We need the criminal justice system and law enforcement to recognize this reality and do something about it. Help those who want to get out. And enact justice on those who won’t let them. Those are the lessons that need to be learned from the Cyntoia Brown case.
To Miss Brown:
The ValleyScott Blog wishes Miss Brown the best of luck when you gets out of prison. I hope that you will be able to live a good life and help women like yourself to find freedom. Cyntoia, you have a second chance, use it well.