Would new laws have protected Cyntoia Brown from prosecution?

Photo: Cyntoia Brown-FOX 17 News Nashville

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that Cyntoia Brown must serve a minimum of 51 years in prison for killing a Nashville man who bought her for sex when she was 16 years old.

Governor Haslam could still grant Brown clemency, but he has not made a decision yet.

Cyntoia Brown's case has many child advocates talking. Advocates believe new laws would have protected Brown from prosecution if they had been in place when she was arrested.

Within the past few years, a traumatic childhood is now being taken into consideration when criminal charges are being filed.

One of the women FOX 17 News spoke with Thursday has met Brown a couple of times. She said the difference between the traumatized child she was, and the functioning adult she is now, is night and day.

Whether it's a young woman being sold for sex, or a child being abused, neglected, or growing up around drugs, the trauma is life changing.

"A child doesn't choose this, even if they appear to choose this," said Derri Smith, founder of End Slavery Tennessee. "Complex trauma like that, trauma that gets repeated more than once, effects every area of a child's life."

Smith said trauma has children stuck in a fight or flight reaction, trying to protect themselves.

"What's applicable here is it impacts impulse control, it affects emotional decision making, in a simple term, their brain freezes at whatever age their trauma begins," Smith explained.

Linda O'Neal, a retired child advocate who served on the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, says this is starting to be noticed and accepted.

"Increasingly there is recognition that we have to take those factors into consideration and recognize that the human brain continues to develop and the development is not complete until the age 25, so it means when adolescents really do terrible and stupid things they still have an opportunity to move beyond that," O'Neal said.

O’Neal said that recognition is now becoming a part of the law.

"They do have life potential, and we need to take that into consideration regardless of what they have done," O'Neal said.

Smith has noticed this change as well.

"A shift from oh that doesn't happen here and all the misconceptions and myths about what trafficking looks like, calling children just truants or trouble children and recognizing their victimhood and their need for services. It's happened slowly, but surely." Smith said.

She hopes Brown will be able to get out of prison, and others will find healing.

FOX 17 News has also learned that Brown wants to start a non-profit when she gets out of jail. We're told she wants to help other women who have been trafficked go down a different path than she did.

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