Content warning: this piece contains accounts of child sexual abuse and violence against a sex working minor as well as discussion of structural violence.
I spent my teen years selling sex on the internet. I grew up on the Craigslist Erotic Services section, finding men who would pay me for something I didn’t take seriously because I’d been robbed of the chance to do so. I’d been raped at 12 by my next door neighbor after months of molestation, and subsequently passed around the neighborhood to two other perverts. One was an Albanian fella who definitely sold women, and he could have ended up trafficking me as well. In hindsight, my luck has been insane.
Cyntoia Brown’s story feels too close to home. Brown killed one of her abusers at the age of 16. When I was 16, I met a man on Yahoo Personals who seemed nice. After a four hour session, he didn’t want to pay. He kicked me out of the house and I had to find my way home. He could have killed me, and I thought he would, because he grabbed me so hard to throw me out. That session could have been my last, and no one would have been the wiser. If I’d been abducted, my mom would have been looking for a ghost; she had no idea what I was doing.
Because of the the demographics I fit into—Black, girl, and too young to be working in the first place—I was wary of telling anyone what I was doing. And even when I felt like I was in danger, I couldn’t call the police without worrying about my black body being meat for the carceral system to chew up and spit out. Calling the police because a session went wrong would have ruined my life. There is no mobility for a poor black woman with a prostitution charge on her record.
Knowing full well, or as well as an 18-year-old can, the possible consequences involved and just trying to make my way out of poverty, I did dangerous shit constantly. Poverty seems to be a recurring theme in these stories of sex work, survival sex work, and trafficking. The Mayflower Madam said: “A call girl is simply a woman who hates poverty more than she hates sin.”But this speaks to an agency that a lot of us don’t have.
So many black and brown girls are just trying to make it to tomorrow with as little pain as possible. Yes, my boyfriend sells me, but he feeds me. Yes, he beats me, but I’m not homeless.
In 2006, Cyntoia Brown was convicted of first-degree murder for shooting and killing Johnny Michael Allen, a 43-year-old man who’d allegedly hired her for sex. Brown says she believes Allen was reaching for his gun when she shot him. According to an amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by Brown’s legal team in 2015, 24-year-old Garion “Cut Throat” McGlothen forced the young teenage Brown into transactional sex with other men and subjected her to physical and sexual abuse.
Brown has been in jail for over a decade, and is 2 years younger than me. Our society’s lack of regard for lived experiences when it comes to black and brown bodies is not surprising to me. I’m learning more and more how rare my story of having never been arrested is. I’m realizing just how many folks are trying to shake free of state surveillance. Still, I’m staggered by the fact that it took Kim Kardashian and Rihanna to make people see how disgusting it is to charge someone who is a child as if they were an adult.
51 years for defending one’s humanity? Only because the state sees us as inhuman. Enough is enough. Abolish the carceral system. Period.
Our bodies deserve more than this.