Cyntoia Brown: Born to Oppression, Jailed by Exploitation, Freed by Resistance

This is an open letter to you, Cyntoia Brown.

We share in the general jubilation of the gubernatorial clemency which will enable you to leave prison this August.  After spending 15 years behind bars.  For having struck back at the man who bought you for sex when you were 16 years old.  There is an implicit irony in this matching of numbers.  Sufficient for the moment is you not spending 51 years paying for one act of rebellion against a fate to which you had been consigned by institutions, social structures and societal belief in the right of a male to sexual access on female and feminized bodies, on the young and vulnerable, on the poor and powerless, especially when they are persons of color.

We send our advance congratulations for the degree you are only one course away from acquiring – education which should’ve been your social birthright.  Your statement – “My hope is to help young girls avoid ending up where I have been” – echoes our two-decade Purple Rose Campaign to end the sex trafficking of women and girls.  We remain steadfast in that commitment;  we hope you will be at the forefront of the fight to free women and girls from the sex trade, the oldest system of exploitation in human history.

The first time we learned of your story, we believed you.  Because it is a story we see over and over again, in all the 50 states of this nation, as well as in the cities, towns and villages of Asia, Africa, Latin America;  it is the story of so many women and girls in Australia, Canada, Europe. We believe you because we have seen it; we have heard of it; we have smelled it, in the dark markets where female bodies are bought and sold.  We have seen it happen to our female relatives, our female friends, the female in our peer groups and even to the women elders among us.  It is a story that underpins the entire structure of misogyny, racism and classism, this sex-based oppression.

Even now, as you serve the last six months of your prison sentence, there are thousands of women who remain in prison, brought there by the same path and the same forces that shoved into that death moment with a john.  Few speak up for these women;  their reality blurred by the cacophony raised by the Pimp Lobby,  wealth depends on an inexhaustible supply of vulnerable young female bodies.

We hope that your voice, your story and your fierce determination to gather the shattered pieces of your life will wake the world to the inhumanity of sex trafficking and the sex trade.  Your story is its reality.  You have revealed who comprise the majority of those who are bought and sold in the sex trade – the young, the poor, the bereft, the person of color.

From the US State Department’s own report on trafficking, this is the USA’s trafficking profile:  “As reported over the past five years, the United States is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, transgender individuals, and children—both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals—subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Trafficking occurs in both legal and illicit industries, including in commercial sex, hospitality, traveling sales crews, agriculture, seafood, manufacturing, janitorial services, construction, restaurants, health care, care for persons with disabilities, salon services, fairs and carnivals, peddling and begging, drug smuggling and distribution, and child care and domestic work. Individuals who entered the United States with and without legal status have been identified as trafficking victims. Government officials, companies, and NGOs have expressed concern about the risk of human trafficking in global supply chains, including in federal contracts. Victims originate from almost every region of the world; the top three countries of origin of federally identified victims in FY 2016 were the United States, Mexico, and the Philippines.Particularly vulnerable populations in the United States include: children in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems; runaway and homeless youth; unaccompanied children; American Indians and Alaska Natives; migrant laborers, including undocumented workers and participants in visa programs for temporary workers; foreign national domestic workers in diplomatic households; persons with limited English proficiency; persons with low literacy; persons with disabilities; and LGBTI individuals. NGOs noted an increase in cases of street gangs engaging in human trafficking. Some U.S. citizens engage in child sex tourism in foreign countries.

We call on all who supported Cyntoia Brown to continue to work for the release of other women now in prison whose path to criminal activity begun with being sex trafficked and made to be drug dependent by pimps and johns.  We call for the protection of the rights of sex trafficking victims and for the criminalization of traffickers, pimps and johns.  We call on those who value the lives and potentials of women and girls to join their voices to ours and demand an end to this patriarchal right of male sexual access to whoever can be brutalized into submission to paid rape.

And finally, we thank Cyntoia Brown for allowing her life to be, by itself, a denunciation of gender-race-class inequality; to be a breathing indictment of a society that exists principally for the privileged race, class and gender.

We are with you in this fight – one started so long ago by so many women and which will be continued until complete liberation by those who will come after us.

Let us collectively condemn the men – from the pimp to the johns to the judge – who have decided that Cyntoia Brown’s existence should only be at and for their pleasure and profit, and for their cruelty.