Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has said he is considering the clemency request for Cyntoia Brown, a sex trafficking victim who was sentenced to life in prison for killing a man who picked her up for sex when she was a teen. The adept questioning of a member of Black Lives Matter Nashville prompted Haslam’s statement.
At a higher education event on Monday, while Haslam was delivering remarks, Justin Laing pressed him about a recent ruling. Last week, the Tennessee Supreme Court said Brown must serve at least 51 years in prison before she could be released.
“Since we’re here talking about education, I wanted to ask a question about one of your students and graduates of Lipscomb University, Cyntoia Brown,”
said Laing, who is also a higher education professional.
The audience began to applaud.
“Cyntoia Brown is currently serving year 14 of a life sentence for the murder of Johnny Allen, a 43-year-old who purchased her for sex at the age of 16. Cyntoia was acting in self-defense as Allen was attempting to assault her. As a victim of sex trafficking and assault, this is an unjust sentence in the first place.
“According to Tennessee laws, a teenager cannot be considered a prostitute. Cyntoia was 16, therefore she was a minor, and at any point, any sexual encounter cannot be considered consensual. Tennessee also ruled that all minors engaged in sex work are considered victims of trafficking. However, she has not been treated as a victim of trafficking and not given the justice that she deserves.”
Laing added that Brown having to serve 51 years before parole is a “human rights issue.”
“And so I ask you, what really, functionally, is the difference between life without parole — which is no longer constitutional as the United States Supreme Court declared for minors, for any crime — and ‘you might get parole after 51 years’ for a victim of sex trafficking” he said.
The moderator attempted to interrupt Laing, but he continued to question the governor.
“And so I ask why has Cyntoia Brown been incarcerated for 14 years for enduring harm And so I say Gov. Haslam, you have the power and ability to grant clemency to Cyntoia Brown, and so I ask when will you grant her clemency, I ask what will be your legacy as you leave office, and how will you answer to this human rights violation that the state of Tennessee is committing by keeping her incarcerated”
Haslam thanked Laing for his question. He said the Supreme Court ruling doesn’t “impact what we do at all.”
“We are in the middle of reviewing it,” he added. “I will say this — we’re reviewing a lot of cases, and while Cyntoia’s case has gotten a lot of publicity, I don’t think you want us to treat hers any different than a whole lot of cases that I think people want us to review to see if it’s been handled well.”
In regard to a time frame for a decision, he said, “I’m just here for six more weeks, so it will be before that.”
MoveOn.org petition has garnered almost 600,000 electronic signatures from people who support Brown’s release.
Incoming U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley said, in an Instagram post on Tuesday, that Brown’s sentencing is “unjust.”
“I will work with my colleagues in Congress to bring awareness to this issue and end the systemic criminalization of survivors worldwide.
Click here for information on how you can contact Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.
Reader Question: Sex and labor trafficking in the U.S. remains a major problem. Why do you think it isn’t being addressed effectively