Cyntoia Brown was granted parole after serving over 10 years in prison for murdering a man who bought her for sex as a 16-year-old. This means that Brown will be released in August for parole supervision, and reducing the initial 51 year wait for parole.
The Tennessee governor’s office granted her clemency, but it also brought a fresh perspective on a case that affects millions of Americans and people around the world. Every 9 seconds in the United States, a woman is assaulted or beaten. In the world, one of three women is beaten or coerced into sexual activity. Domestic violence is an issue that may be discussed when a celebrity is open about an abusive or harmful relationship, when a call is made to the authorities about an explosive dispute between your neighbors. But it is rarely addressed in America’s court with the exception of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act that is meant to protect those forced into sex work.
Cyntoia Brown was a woman who had multiple factors that brought her to prostitution. Growing up, her mother admitted that she drank heavily during the pregnancy. It is very likely that Brown has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which would give her poor social skills and behavioral issues such as impulsiveness and anxiety. Although placed in an adoptive family, this disorder may have been why she ran away and ended up in an abusive relationship with a pimp who coerced her into working for him as a sex worker at age 16. When she was convicted for murdering a man three times her age, the court did not view her as a child sex trafficking victim or as a domestic violence survivor or as a person with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. This time around, the court does address her as a victim of domestic abuse and a child sex trafficking victim.
With that in mind, despite the fact that domestic violence and child sex trafficking is finally discussed, a pivotal part of Cyntoia Brown’s story is skimmed over. Black, Native and multi-racial women are 30-50% more at risk to be raped, assaulted, or stalked by an intimate partner than white, Hispanic, Pacific or Asian women. In addition to her possible mental disorder, the risk of her being a victim of domestic violence was already high due to her race and gender. Furthermore, in an interview with Rewire. News with police brutality lawyer and author Andrea J. Ritchie, the interviewee notes that who is portrayed as a victim is due to race and gender.
Because of her being a child sex worker, her status as a victim is acceptable. However, other black sex workers who are admittedly not all minors but have faced domestic violence and are working the streets are not given the same opportunity to use the word victim to describe themselves. Alisha Walker was 19 years old when she stabbed a client who she claimed attacked her. A black sex worker with family issues being referenced by the judge as the cause of her job, she is currently serving 15 years. She was not considered a victim. Neither was 16 year old runaway Desiree Robinson, until she was brutally murdered by a man who paid her to have sex.
Black girls and girls of color are at risk for domestic violence, are at risk for sex trafficking. They are victims. They deserve to be treated as such and not jailed first then re-examined. They deserve to be recognized before something awful occurs to them. It’s not fair women of color to be treated and viewed differently, especially when domestic violence and sex trafficking affect every single one of us regardless of gender and race.