WARNING: Graphic content

Social media is awash with this face today.

The picture shows Cyntoia Brown. In 2004, at the age of 16 she was sex-trafficked by a pimp nicknamed "Kut-Throat" in Nashville, Tennessee.

Cyntoia came to be in Kut-Throat's company after running away from home, and needing a place to stay.

After days of being repeatedly drugged, raped by different men at gunpoint and choked until she passed out at his hotel room, she was purchased by a real estate agent for sex.


Johnny Allen, 43, took her to his home. She said that she was terrified of Allen, who behaved in a threatening manner, had multiple guns in his home and had experience in the military. While lying in bed, Allen rolled over and she thought he was reaching for one of his guns on the floor.

She shot and killed him with a gun she kept stashed in her handbag.

The teenager was arrested for murder, tried and convicted as an adult. In 2006 she was sentenced to life in prison and will be eligible for parole when she is 69.

Fox 17 Nashville recently published a report on Cyntoia's life in prison, and it has brought renewed attention to her case.

That is why the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown is trending and celebrities including Rihanna, Kim Kardashian West and Cara Delevingne are posting messages of support.

There is also a petition circulating calling for a potential presidential pardon. It currently has over 100,000 signatures.

Cyntoia Brown was arrested for shooting the man who purchased her as a child sex slave.
Cyntoia Brown was arrested for shooting the man who purchased her as a child sex slave.

A large part of the tragedy lays in the timing of Cyntoia's sentencing. In 2017, she would be classified a sex slave and the court would treat her as a child human trafficking victim.

However, that wasn't the case back in 2004 when she was arrested. The laws were completely different back then.

Derri Smith, the Founder of End Slavery TN, told Fox 17 "she did kill someone, she deeply regrets it, but she was a child and she was being exploited".

Filmmaker Dan Birman spent seven years documenting Cyntoia's case.

He explains that she is at the tail end of three generations of violence against women — Cyntoia, her grandmother, and mother were all raped.

"She had no chance," Birman said.

In her 2004 trial, Cyntoia's mother testified drinking at least "a fifth" [750ml] of alcohol a day while pregnant. On appeal, Cyntoia's lawyers were able to show she suffered from Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder which affected her brain and showed up on medical brain scans.

But it wasn't enough to keep her out of jail.

Birman's film on Cyntoia helped change Tennessee law for children like her in 2011. Now, anyone 18 or younger can't be charged with prostitution.

If this law had been in place when Cyntoia was facing trial, it may have had an effect on the outcome and her severe sentence could have possibly been avoided.

Cyntoia, now 29, has earned an associate's degree from Lipscomb University while in prison and is currently working towards a bachelor's degree.

She is also working side-by-side with the courts and the Juvenile Justice system as an unpaid consultant.

"I myself can create opportunities to help people [behind bars]," Cyntoia said.