“If I can keep one child from going down the path that I went down, it will be worth it.” Words spoken by twenty-nine-year-old Cyntoia Brown. The path she embarked on as a child was not one she chose. Brown was forced into prostitution as a child during which time she was abused and raped until the age of 16 when she was arrested for murdering one of her solicitors.
Brown’s story has garnered a lot of media attention recently with a number of high profile celebrities including Rihanna and Kim Kardashian sharing her story on social media outlets and calling for her release from a life prison sentence. Brown has served 13 years thus far and is ineligible for until she has served at least 53 years.
Cyntoia Brown’s story brings to light both the legal and health-related problems associated with sex trafficking. After having their human rights violated, victims who comply with their abusers’ demands are often jailed for prostitution. Those who fight back against their violators often face legal prosecution and serve jail sentences. Is this how we should treat victims of human trafficking?
Not only do victims face legal ramifications they also endure health consequences of their physical and emotional abuse. Women are often subjected to unwanted, unplanned pregnancies because they do not have access to birth control methods including condoms (1). This also places them at risk for gynecological problems including sexually transmitted diseases and infections. According to Stop Violence Against Women, rates of abortion, infertility, and sterilization are higher among female prostitutes. Victims are also subject to long-term mental health issues including depression, suicidal ideation, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Brown’s story is not unique. According to the Human Trafficking Hotline, in 2015 over 5,500 cases of human trafficking were reported (2). This number rose in the following year. Over 7,600 cases were reported in 2016. The challenges that victims of human trafficking face need our attention. Their struggles with physical and emotional abuse do not belong only to themselves. They are public health issues that affect us all.