By Derri Smith, CEO of End Slavery Tennessee

I’m glad to see Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and other celebrities speaking up about Cyntoia Brown’s case. Think about Ashton Kutcher and the difference he has made around the issue of human trafficking. Celebrities can use their platform to begin conversation about societal issues.

This is not a new issue. End Slavery Tennessee, and others, have been advocating for Cyntoia for some time now. I’ve done multiple TV and radio interviews, written as an expert on the topic to the Governor and parole board and have the honor of visiting Cyntoia in prison. Lawyers and videographers have used their skills on her behalf. Survivor leaders and staff in the Juvenile Court system and at Lipscomb University, where Cyntoia will soon receive her bachelor’s degree, are all fighting for her.

We need a cultural mindset shift around the issue of human trafficking as we’ve seen in the past around domestic violence and other violent crimes against women. Thirty years ago there was no “battered women’s syndrome” affirmative defense. Today there is. Had Cyntoia been sentenced today, I don’t think there is any way she would have received life in prison. She would have been seen as a victim. She would not have been tagged a “teen prostitute” as she was in the trial. (There is NO such thing as a teen prostitute; any minor used for commercial sex is a human trafficking victim.) She would have had a strong self-defense plea.

Cyntoia does not minimize the fact that she murdered someone. She is simply asking that her sentence be changed from first to second degree. She’s served time and used it well, to help other youth raised similarly to her.

We have an opportunity now to take a hard look at all the circumstances surrounding Cyntoia’s victimization and her shooting of the rapist. We need to take that hard look and artists like Rihanna can shine a spotlight and help Cyntoia’s case get the attention it deserves.

Want to help? Below you will find the framework for how to address a letter in support of Cyntoia Brown’s clemency petition.

Make two copies of the same letter. Please address one copy to Chairman Montgomery of the Tennessee Board of Parole and one copy to Governor Bill Haslam. Once the letters are completed, please print and sign both copies.

Form letters are NOT effective. Best to have a short personal plea than to use a form letter. If you are a survivor, add your personal understanding of complex trauma and how it affects the brain.

Please mention End Slavery Tennessee as advocates for Cyntoia and where you got the information; this will help strengthen our ‘asks’ when we speak to those who make the decisions.

First Copy:


The Honorable Richard Montgomery
Tennessee Board of Parole
404 James Robertson Parkway, Suite 1300
Nashville, TN 37243

Chairman Montgomery, 

Second Copy:


The Honorable Bill Haslam
Governor of Tennessee
State Capitol, 1st Floor
600 Charlotte Ave
Nashville, TN 37243

Governor Haslam,


There is no specific need for money for her defense currently. Her attorney works pro bono. If you wish to contribute directly to Cyntoia, for writing supplies and the like in prison, go to www.JPay.com  , select Tennessee as the state and enter Cyntoia's individual number 00410593.