Lack of legal protection for victims of sex trafficking leads to unjust punishments

The Supreme Court condemned a child sex slave, Cyntoia Brown, to a life sentence in 2006 for killing her abuser; she is now 29 and has already faced 13 years in prison, according to The New York Times. 

Not only is Brown’s horrifying story an example of how the legal system fails to protect victims of sex trafficking and abuse, but this also illustrates how victim blaming continues to persist socially in the United States.

“Although the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 court ruled that mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles violate Eighth Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment, that decision does not apply to Brown,” according to 10News.

Brown’s case resurfaced and gained attention on social media when multiple high-profile individuals such as Kim Kardashian West, Rihanna and Cara Delevigne voiced their opposition to her sentence, according to CNN.

The most disturbing part of this case resurfacing is that this type of verdict is not uncommon. For example, “Each year, more than 1,000 children are arrested for prostitution in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics,” as reported by NPR. 

At age 16, Brown was forced to live with her pimp where she faced emotional, physical and sexual abuse daily. She was forced to have sex with a man named Johnny Allen and during that night and when it looked as though he was reaching for a gun, Brown shot and killed the 43-year-old in 2004, according to The New York Times. 

Brown “was tried as an adult … and a jury rejected her claim of self-defense, finding her guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery,” as reported by The New York Times. “Prosecutors claimed she killed Allen in order to rob him because she took his wallet and two guns before leaving his home,” according to NPR. 

It is shocking and absolutely unacceptable that Brown was viewed as a criminal as opposed to a victim.

In Brown’s case, and many others like it, it is essential to acknowledge the difference between prostitution and forced prostitution. Many women and girls who are trapped in sex trafficking rings are not at fault—the individuals who abuse them are. 

Brown was forced into prostitution because of her difficult childhood. She “suffered from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, grew up in an abusive home and had run away from her adoptive parents’ house prior to becoming involved in prostitution in Nashville,” according to CNN, “She then met a 24-year-old named ‘Cut Throat’ who, according to the petition, eventually began physically and sexually abusing her and forced her into prostitution.”

While some women do opt to sell sex in order to make money, this clearly was not the case due to Brown’s circumstances and that of many other victims like her. 

Brown testified that her pimp would manipulate her: “He would explain to me that some people were born whores, and that I was one, and I was a slut, and nobody’d want me but him, and the best thing I could do was just learn to be a good whore,” reported The New York Times.

It is absolutely essential to end the vicious cycle of “gender inequality and discriminatory laws that trap women in poverty and fail to protect them from violence, render[ing] them vulnerable to prostitution and trafficking,” according to Equality Now.

If there were greater protection for Brown and the young women like her who experience sex trafficking, then situations where individuals resort to drastic measures to protect themselves would not occur. 

Furthermore, since Brown was convicted by a jury, her case indicates that there is a larger social problem of victim-blaming as well as a lack of empathy for women who are subject to sexual abuse and manipulation. 

Brown is absolutely deserving of a lighter sentence—or even no sentence at all. It is necessary to remain hopeful that the public attention to her case will result in a positive outcome. 

Brown’s appalling experience, however, must be used to prevent scenarios like this from happening in the future. The vicious cycle that subjects females to sex trafficking needs to end and until then, greater protection under the law and jury sympathy is essential to show to victims.