Sex trafficking: the Cyntoia Brown case highlights a massive global problem


Sex trafficking is a global human rights crisis that has does not often receive widespread attention. That changed last week when the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown began trending online. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Rihanna used the hashtag to get behind the story of a 29-year-old woman who was sentenced to life imprisonment in the United States after killing a man who’d paid to have sex with her. Umamah Bakharia rounds up how Brown’s story sheds light on a pervasive issue.

Cyntoia Brown was just 16 when she ran away from her adoptive family due to sexual abuse. She was then sex trafficked by a pimp in Nashville, USA. In 2004, she was bought for sex by a 43-year-old man who took her to his home, where she claims she killed him in self-defence. She told the court she thought he was “gonna get a gun or is gonna do something to me.”

Brown was sentenced to life in prison. The judge rejected her claim of self defence.

The case recently resurfaced and caught the attention of celebrities such as Kim Kardashian (who called her lawyers to assist in the case) and Rihanna, who both posted screenshots from a documentary titled “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia Brown” by filmmaker Dan Birdman with the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown.

South Africa is considered a “major source, transit and destination country” for trafficking, but with insufficient data being collected, it’s difficult to know exactly how many children are trafficked in and out of the country every year. According to a 2016 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, almost a third of the victims of human trafficking are children, while 71% of the victims are women and girls.

According to the International Labour Organisation, victims of sex trafficking are often runaways who face financial difficulty at home, unhappiness, depression or even sexual abuse. They are highly vulnerable and are easily targeted by traffickers or pimps. In most cases, these victims first loiter the streets to avoid going home before they are approached and offered accommodation or a kind gesture, with the intention of using them to gain a profit.

In September, Grizelda Grootboom, who became a sex trafficking victim at 16, and now works with the anti-rape campaign Izwi Lami urged the United Nations to take action against human trafficking in ways that restore human dignity to the victims. UN General Assembly president Miroslav Lajcak has said the organisation is committed to a victim-centered approach towards human trafficking and has urged countries to contribute to a victim’s trust that will help them “reclaim their dignity” and avoid becoming vulnerable to trafficking or other forms of crime.

The next step forward is create awareness about human trafficking and by this try to stop such crimes from occurring again. As for Cyntoia Brown, a number of petitions have been circulating to get her a retrial, one having collected over 400 000 signatures.

Umamah Bakharia is a first-year journalism student who lives for playful moments, is obsessed with Steri Stumpie and chooses love over everything.

Featured image via Pixabay


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