Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Cyntoia Brown

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

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

Sex trafficking victim spent roughly half her life in prison

Andrea Germanos

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."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Scientists Revive ‘Zombie’ Virus After 50,000 Years Trapped in Siberian Permafrost

Researchers documented 13 never-before-seen viruses that have been lying dormant, frozen in thick ice, over tens of thousands of years.

Common Dreams staff ·


'Cleaner Air Is Coming' as London Expands Vehicle Pollution Fee to Entire Metro Area

"Around 4,000 Londoners die prematurely each year because of long-term exposure to air pollution, with the greatest number of deaths in outer London boroughs," noted Mayor Sadiq Khan in announcing the expansion.

Brett Wilkins ·


'Amazing News': Historic Shark Protections Approved at Global Wildlife Convention

Up to 90% of sharks targeted by the lucrative fin trade will now be protected, said one advocate.

Julia Conley ·


'The Nightmare Materializes': Far-Right Extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir to Be Israel's National Security Minister

The Foreign Affairs Ministry of the Palestinian Authority said Ben-Gvir's elevation to national security minister could have a "catastrophic impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Jake Johnson ·


Raging Wars, Soaring Hunger Put Women and Girls in Crosshairs, Warns UN

"A toxic mix of crises—conflicts, climate, skyrocketing costs, and the ripple effects of the Ukraine war—are inflicting a devastating toll on the forcibly displaced. This is being felt across the world, but women and girls are particularly suffering."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo