Kim Kardashian West has apparently kept her promise to seek legal counsel for Cyntoia Brown, a 29-year-old American woman who is serving life in prison for killing a man who purchased her for sex when she was just a teen.
On Nov. 21, Kardashian West tweeted that she had called her attorneys to “see what can be done” to get Brown out of prison. The 37-year-old reality star is also trying to help 62-year-old Alice Johnson, another woman serving 21 years in prison for a first time, non-violent drug offence, as reported by The Blast.
Kardashian West’s attorney, Shawn Holley, told the outlet the beauty mogul asked him “to help her find a way to help these women.” Holly says he’s already scheduled a call to begin discussions about Brown’s case.
In 2004, Brown shot and killed a 43-year-old Nashville, Tennessee man named Johnny Allen. At the time, she was a 16-year-old victim of sex trafficking who was living with a pimp named “Kutthroat,” who repeatedly raped, physically and mentally abused, drugged and forced the teenage girl into sex work. Allen was another adult man who had purchased her for sex. Two years later, after being tried as an adult, Brown was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Now, more than a decade since her conviction, celebrities like Rihanna, Cara Delevingne, Kim Kardashian West and T.I. are drawing renewed attention to her case by sharing Instagram and Twitter posts with the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown. Brown will not be eligible for parole until she is 67 years old, at which point she will have served 51 years of her sentence.
The social media campaign calls her case a miscarriage of justice, and is urging government officials to overturn Brown’s life sentence, saying she was a victim, not a perpetrator. Many of the tweets and posts include a picture of Brown when she was sentenced, which is a startling reminder that she was a literal child at the time of her murder trial—and when she was forced into the sex trade and serially abused by a pimp she called her boyfriend.
did we somehow change the definition of #JUSTICE along the way?? cause….. Something is horribly wrong when the system enables these rapists and the victim is thrown away for life! To each of you responsible for this child’s sentence I hope to God you don’t have children, because this could be your daughter being punished for punishing already! #FREECYNTOIABROWN #HowManyMore
The system has failed. It’s heart breaking to see a young girl sex trafficked then when she has the courage to fight back is jailed for life! We have to do better & do what’s right. I’ve called my attorneys yesterday to see what can be done to fix this. #FreeCyntoiaBrown pic.twitter.com/73y26mLp7u
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) November 21, 2017
A petition on MoveOn.org calling for Brown to receive a presidential pardon has gained traction in recent days with nearly 300,000 signatures at the time this story was published. While the petition was first started in 2013, public interest in the case was sparked anew when Fox 17 News in Nashville, Tennessee—where Brown was trafficked as a child—ran a news story on her case on November 16.
In the segment, Fox 17 News shares footage from filmmaker Daniel Birman, whose documentary about Brown, Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story, called attention to the case when it aired in 2011. Birman spent seven years interviewing Brown and documenting her time in prison, in addition to painting a deeply traumatic picture of her life even before she became a victim of sex trafficking.
Birman explained to Fox 17 that Brown came from a family with a long history of sexual and physical abuse toward women. “This is a young girl who’s at the tail end of three generations of violence against women,” he said. (Brown’s grandmother, mother and Brown herself had all been victims of rape.) “She had no chance.”
During her murder trial in 2004, Brown testified that after running away at 16, she began living in a motel with “Kutthroat,” the pimp who forced her into sex work while violently abusing her. She said she was regularly beaten, choked, dragged, raped and threatened at gunpoint. Her lawyers argued that this horrific experience, coupled with drug-fuelled fear and paranoia, drove her to shoot Allen. Additionally, brain scans indicate that Brown shows signs of fetal alcohol syndrome, which slows brain development and impacts impulse control, as a result of her mother’s heavy drinking during her pregnancy.
Since her conviction, state laws have changed dramatically and if Brown were arrested today, she would be recognized as a child victim of human trafficking.
Derri Smith, Founder of End Slavery TN was also interviewed by Fox 17 News and emphasizes that Brown was a child at the time of the crimes. “She did kill someone, she deeply regrets it, but she was a child and she was being exploited,” Smith said.
“There’s no such thing as a child prostitute or a teen prostitute. I think we’ve had to have a cultural mind shift.”
If you have been sexually harassed or assaulted, contact the Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 1-866-863-0511 or find a rape crisis centre or women’s centre in your province via The Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres.
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