In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Cyntoia Brown's lawyer, Charles Bone, confirmed that his client was aware that she had recently become the subject of viral social media posts. Brown, a sex-trafficking victim who is now 29, was sentenced to life in prison at age 16 after she fatally shot a 43 year-old man who had hired her for sex. In the past week, figures like Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, and Cara Delevingne have united under the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown to call for justice for the woman who will not be eligible for parole until she is 67 years old.
"We welcome all of the support from the celebrities, like Kim, and also with her legal team. We look forward to working with all the volunteers who have been apart of this," Bone said in a televised interview. (Kardashian tweeted on Nov. 21 that she had directed her attorneys to see how they could be of service to Brown.)
Brown is currently appealing her case after the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that it was unconstitutional to issue mandatory life sentences without parole to minors. Her case is set to be heard before the 6th Court of Appeals sometime in 2018. Additionally, Bone said that his team is asking Tennessee officials, such as the governor and state legislature, to intervene by commuting her life sentence.
It's not entirely clear why a rash of celebrities suddenly took to social media to vouch for Brown's case. In 2011, PBS aired a documentary about her case, Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story, which gained national attention at the time. But seemingly out of the blue last week, details of Brown's case began making rounds on high-profile Instagram and Twitter accounts, drawing a fresh round of attention to the woman's current legal situation.
The particularities of Brown's story are gruesome. According to court documents, Brown's lawyers say she was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, which they have argued can impair judgement in stressful situations. Later in life, after running away from her adoptive parents as a young teen, Brown met and was trafficked by a pimp in Nashville known as "Cut-Throat."
Brown was staying in a hotel with the pimp when she was picked up on the side of the road by 43 year-old man named Johnny Mitchell Allen, who then brought her back to his home and hired her for sex. Brown said she shot Allen because she believed he was going to physically hurt her. Prosecutors, however, argued that she had intended to rob Allen. After being tried as an adult, Brown was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in Tennessee.
Attention around Brown's conviction has led to changes regarding how minors, and particularly minors who are paid for sex, are treated under Tennessee law. People under the age of 18 can no longer be charged with prostitution, for example, because they are no longer recognized as able to give consent. Similarly, child victims of sexual abuse in the state may no longer face life sentences for defending themselves against their abusers. However, despite these changes, Brown remains imprisoned.
A post Rihanna shared on Instagram claimed that Brown was "repeatedly drugged and raped by different men" before being "purchased by a 43 year old child predator." "Did we somehow change the definition of #JUSTICE along the way?? [Cause] something is horribly wrong when the system enables these rapists and the victim is thrown away for life!" the singer captioned her post.
Brown has been described as a model inmate, and while in prison has received her G.E.D and associate's degree. According to Bone, she is close to completing her bachelor's.