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Sex-trafficking survivor Cyntoia Brown was granted clemency on Monday after serving 14 years in prison for killing a man who had paid to have sex with her when she was 16. (Photo: @CBSNews/Twitter)

Celebrating Cyntoia Brown's Clemency, Rights Advocates Vow to Continue Fighting for Human Trafficking Survivors Behind Bars

"This victory belongs to Cyntoia Brown and to the Tennessee human trafficking activists, especially black women, who refused to concede injustice and instead organized to create change."

Julia Conley

A decade-long campaign which garnered national headlines in recent months came to fruition on Monday, as Gov. Bill Haslam (R-Tenn.) granted clemency to Cyntoia Brown, a sex-trafficking survivor who has been behind bars for 15 years for murder.

After facing pressure from human rights groups, hundreds of thousands of Americans who signed petitions and wrote letters protesting Brown's imprisonment, and celebrities who helped bring attention to her case, Haslam announced days before he is to leave office that Brown will be released from prison in August.

On social media, many of Brown's supporters gave credit to the groundswell of activism on her behalf that gained national attention in recent months, as well as efforts by Tennesseeans who have been fighting for her release for at least a decade. 

After thanking Haslam, Brown herself also expressed gratitude to those who have fought for her early release.

"I am thankful for all the support, prayers, and encouragement I have received," Brown said. "I am thankful to my lawyers and their staffs, and all the others who, for the last decade have freely given of their time and expertise to help me get to this day. I love all of you and will be forever grateful.

"With God's help, I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others, especially young people. My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been."

Brown was tried as an adult in 2004 after she shot a man who had paid to have sex with her when she was 16 years old. She killed the man after she thought he was reaching for a gun to shoot her. Brown was working for a pimp at the time who had raped her and forced her into prostitution. Before Haslam announced her clemency, she was serving a life sentence and was not scheduled to be eligible for parole until 2055.

Many of Brown's supporters expressed hope that her case would bring more attention to the 2,100 inmates who are serving life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles, as well as the thousands of Americans who are victimized by sex-traffickers every year. 

"We need to see this as a national awakening," J. Houston Gordon, one of Brown's lawyers, said in a statement.

While celebrating Brown's early release and applauding the work of activists, writer and organizer Mariame Kaba was among those who hesitated to express full satisfaction with Haslam's decision, which includes supervised parole for Brown until 2029—meaning by that time, she will have spent 24 years under state control after spending part of her childhood under the control of a sex trafficker.

"That isn't justice," Kaba said.


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