Cyntoia Brown is currently out of prison after receiving clemency; however, her story could have been drastically changed had she become pregnant during the time she was forced into trafficking.
When Cyntoia Brown was 16 years old she was being sexually trafficked and abused in every way imaginable by a male trafficker referred to as “Kut Throat.” After a man paid Kut Throat for a night with Cyntoia, she became frightened when she believed the man was planning to kill her. In order to save her own life, Cyntoia killed the man and fled the scene with money and guns. At the age of 16, Cyntoia was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison for murder.
Many advocates in Tennessee worked tirelessly to bring attention to the injustice of the sentencing. Their work paid off and when celebrities like Rihanna, Snoop Dogg, and Lebron James began posting about the case on their social media platforms. The case reached wider public audiences and the number of people rallying to free Cyntoia increased exponentially. It was only 13 years after her sentencing, and 15 years since entering the prison system, that Cyntoia was released from prison and currently on parole after receiving clemency from Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam.
Black maternal health is also a topic that is increasing in public conversation. Black Mamas Matter is an organization that addresses and brings attention to the systemic racist policies and practices that put Black mothers and their pregnancies at greater risk for unfavorable life-threatening and fatal outcomes. Presently, Black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, according to the Center for Disease Control. Additionally, Black women are twice as likely to be incarcerated than white women and currently make up nearly 50 percent of prison populations. In short, Black women are over policed, over sentenced, over imprisoned, and grossly under cared for during pregnancy and childbirth.
As a Black teen girl, the possibility of Cyntoia becoming pregnant during the abuse she endured could have drastically changed her trafficking situation for the worse. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence found that 26 percent of pregnant teens in the U.S. reported being battered by their boyfriends. (note: we are aware and acknowledge that the man who trafficked and abused Cyntoia was not her boyfriend). Approximately half reported that the abuse began or intensified when the teens found out they were pregnant.
Studies show that pregnancy can be a domestic violence trigger for people that already in a violent relationship and or people who have not experienced violence from their partner before becoming pregnant. Being in a violent situation can cause pregnant people (“people,” because not all people that can get pregnant identify as women) to delay seeking medical care and attention thus leading to poor health outcomes. For people that are already in violent situations the outcomes can be fatal, “homicide [is] found to be the second-leading cause of injury-related death for pregnant women, after car accidents, in a study by the National Institutes of Health.”
For Black women in The United States, being pregnant is a gamble on their life. For Cyntoia Brown, becoming pregnant during the time she endured compounded abuse from the people who trafficked her and or the prison industrial complex could have meant the end of her life, indefinitely. While we celebrate Cynthoia’s release from prison, may we all keep in mind and continue to speak out about over incarceration and the fatal outcomes for Black women during pregnancy and childbirth.