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After Demands for Justice Drove Her Clemency, Cyntoia Brown Released From Prison

Sex trafficking victim spent roughly half her life in prison

Cyntoia Brown

Cyntoia Brown speaking in Daniel H. Birman's "Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story." (Screengrab via PBS/Independent Lens)

Child sex trafficking victim Cyntoia Brown was released from prison on Wednesday—a development welcomed by human rights advocates who said her case underscores the need to fix the nation's criminal justice system.

Now 31 years old, Brown was originally sentenced to life in prison for killing one of the men who solicited her for sex when she was a 16-year-old child.

In January, then-Gov. Bill Haslam (R-Tenn.) commuted her sentence following pressure from human rights groups, thousands of Americans who signed petitions and wrote letters, and celebrities who helped bring attention to her case.

"This victory belongs to Cyntoia, her community, and to the thousands of people including local organizers and advocates who stepped in to demand justice," said online racial justice organization Color of Change on Twitter on Wednesday. 

"Cyntoia's story," the group continued, "provides a glimpse into the lives of the thousands of women and girls currently locked up behind bars largely due to survival strategies."

It also provides a glimpse of how justice is meted out, as commentator David A. Love noted in 2018.

"A virtual life sentence for former child sex slave Cyntoia Brown stands in marked contrast to the light slap on the wrist for billionaire serial abuser Jeffrey Epstein," he wrote. "But it is not surprising in a society that treats people differently based on race, class, and gender.

 "More action must be taken to protect young, vulnerable sex trafficking victims in our country," Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law president and executive director Kristen Clarke tweeted. "Child trafficking victims deserve support and safety, not incarceration."

Brown spent more than 14 years behind bars.

Brown said in a statement this week that she looks "forward to using my experiences to help other women and girls suffering abuse and exploitation."

Though now out of prison, Brown is still under state control.

The Tennessee Department of Correction said she will be on parole for 10 years. During that time, she must maintain employment or enrollment in classes, attend regular counseling, and do community service.

The ACLU previously denounced the additional decade as "excessive."

"Cyntoia never should have been sentenced so harshly to begin with," the rights group said in January, "and we can't lose sight of the fact that she is still receiving an excessive 10 years probation."

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