KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee sex trafficking victim sentenced to life in prison as a teenager is now free, and her release is a milestone in the fight to end trafficking.
Cyntoia Brown shot and killed a man who solicited her for sex 15 years ago.
"I killed Johnny Allen. He's gone," she said. "A lot of times you do things, you hurt people, and you can always come back and you can fix it."
On Wednesday, Brown walked out of prison a free woman thanks to the clemency granted to her by former Governor Bill Haslam.
"We understand sex trafficking a lot better than we did then and we know that no 16-year-old girl chooses to be out on the street doing that," said Haslam.
Victim advocates say the first step to ending trafficking is acknowledging that it happens in our community, and how it can affect victims.
"This is a great example of how that trauma as a child can really affect decision making," said Kate Trudell, Executive Director of the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking. "It was unfortunate what happened but being able to celebrate how far we've come and her freedom is a great day."
Trudell said Brown's case takes trafficking from an idea to a reality in Tennessee.
"I think ultimately communities can't solve problems that they don't know about," said Trudell. "Back when Cyntoia Brown's case was first coming to light there weren't really any laws on the books in our state to deal with trafficking."
Now, while the crime grows worldwide, the state is doing its part to put an end to trafficking and people like Trudell hope Brown's release helps more victims in Tennessee.
"This can be a catalyst to communities to ask questions," she said. "What happens in this type of victimization? Who are these people who are affected? And really just a means to get communities talking about the issue."
Brown will be under parole supervision through 2029.
She said in a statement she wants to help other women and girls who are suffering abuse and exploitation.
If you or someone you know has witnessed or is caught in the cycle of human trafficking, report anonymous tips to the Tennessee Human Trafficking Hotline by calling 1-855-55-TNHTH.