Cyntoia Brown’s Commuted Sentence Is Not Justice
We Don’t Get To Congratulate Ourselves Over This
When a black child’s body is rented out by someone she cannot escape to other adults for the purpose of sex, she is not a prostitute. She is a slave. When you have sex with a slave, you are committing an act of rape. She has no agency. She has no choice. She cannot consent. Period.
Prostitution is a completely different thing. The crime of plantation slave owners before the Civil War wasn’t farming. It was slavery. All other abuses followed from the fact that the slaves were not free to leave. That’s what made them slaves.
I spent 10 years working with children who have been sexually exploited, and I’m not going violate their confidentiality by giving you the details of their stories, but I’d like to share some facts about sex slavery I learned from working with children who’d been trafficked.
Whatever you’ve seen in Hollywood movies, these stories are far worse. Movies have a limited amount of time to portray a few salient examples of the disgusting intricacies of abuse.
The details of these kids’ lives represent the cumulative torture from all the adults they’ve come into contact with. Regular beatings. Being raped by 10+ adults a day. Having zero agency, no ability to say “no” to anything because their only means of survival is to take any kind of abuse that anyone wants to give them.
Children often failed when trying to escape from adult pimps, who have the strategical planning advantage of a global crime system. If they did escape and seek out the police, in my experience, the cops tended to arrest them for confessing to the crime of prostitution.
That’s right. Arresting children as “prostitutes.” That should not even be a thing. A child too young to consent to sex is too young to consent to prostitution. Yet, I dealt with so many cases where that’s exactly what happened. And guess who is likely to be there to post bail for that child? Not the parents, who have no idea where they are and often aren’t looking. The pimps, who know exactly where to look when the kid doesn’t check in on time.
Slavery Was Never Abolished; It Was Only Criminalized
In the 20th century, smoking pot was illegal everywhere in the U.S., but it still happened in every town across America. You know that making something illegal doesn’t mean that thing stops happening.
Same with slavery. I promise you that sex slavery is happening everywhere in America right this second. Cities, small towns, suburbs, farming communities, in all 50 States, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands: everywhere.
The United Nations tells us there are more human slaves on the planet today than at any point in history. Most of them are women and children. Most of them are sex slaves. If you want to know more about that, check out the UN Report here.
Enter Cyntoia Brown
According to Wikipedia, Cyntoia’s entered the foster system because her mother was battling a crack addiction and could not care for her.
Crack, of course, is a drug the United States government intentionally perpetuated on black communities in order to fund illegal activities in the 1980s. This is not a conspiracy theory. This is a matter of public record, exposed during the Iran Contra trials. If you attended public schools in this country and you don’t know that, it’s because your education has failed you.
I don’t know what the situation was that landed Cyntoia on the street, but I know that, like most female children who end up homeless and alone, she got scooped up by someone who beat and raped her and sold her body for sex.
And yes, she was on drugs. If that was my life, I’d be doing drugs, too.
So what we know about this child is that she:
- was being raped by countless adults, probably daily,
- endured frequent beatings,
- had no one in the world to protect her,
- had been failed by every single adult and institution in her life,
- was the heiress of a crack epidemic perpetuated by the same government who spent 300 years importing black slaves across the Atlantic, and
- was now on drugs, herself, to numb the trauma she was living in.
We know that this child killed one of the adult men who paid for her in 2004, and for that she was sentenced to 51 years in jail.
The thing that makes me livid (besides all of it) is that there is no debate over these facts, but there is debate about whether she was sufficiently scared when she killed him. What else does a child have to endure for her fear to be legitmate enough?
The Second Half of Her Life
After 7 years in jail, she was featured in a documentary.
After 13 years in jail, in 2017, some celebrities, including T.I., LeBron James, Rihanna, and Kim Kardashian, took up her cause on social media and petitioned for her freedom.
Today, after 15 years in jail, a judge granted her clemency, meaning she’s eligible for parole in August. If all goes well, she would then be on parole for another 10 years.
She is now a 30 year old woman, who began in the care of the state, was lost to slavery and abuse, and spent the second half of her life in prison. And the best case scenario for her, from today, is almost a year in prison and another 10 years parole. The system, that has failed her since the day she was born, is far from done with her.
What Her “Clemency” Really Means
Is she free? No. She might be free… in 8 months… as long as everything goes well for her… and then she’s not completely free, so much as on parole.
So, like, if she can’t get a job or pay her parole fees, she could go right back in. If she drinks one beer in the next 10 years or violates some random state law, she could go right back in. If she wants to travel, she has to get permission from her parole officer.
She can’t make any money from the documentary about her or any appearances she might book as a result of people’s interest in her story, because you’re not allowed to profit from a crime you committed.
I mean, I’m no lawyer. Maybe there are ways around all this. If she finds a way around it, it will likely be because an attorney who saw the documentary about her felt moved to help her out.
But we can’t make a documentary about every victim of sex slavery in this country. It can’t keep falling on T.I. and Rhianna to learn each of their individual names. At some point, we have to change the system that continues to fail our children in the most disgusting ways.
This is not justice.
I am happy that she could be out in less than a year. I wish it was sooner. I wish she didn’t have to be on parole. I wish she got reparations.
I hope we, as a society, did something good for her while we kept her locked away for half her life. I hope someone taught her how to live on a budget. I hope someone told her how to reach out to HR if she ever gets mistreated in the work place. I hope someone explained what your rights are as a tenant and what to do if you need your landlord to perform some routine maintenance. I hope someone taught her good test taking skills, in case she wants to continue her schooling. I hope we paid for a decent education for her, over the past 15 years, while we funded her punishment for being traumatized while being poor, black, and female.
Even if we did, we don’t get to congratulate ourselves for how we have treated Cyntoia Brown. Until we dismantle the system of oppression that continues to exploit girls like her, our work is not done.