Three Lessons from Cyntoia Brown-Long

Feb 8, 2020

In this guest post, Elyse Dobney, program manager of STOP-IT, The Salvation Army’s anti-human trafficking program, offers insights she learned at an event STOP-IT helped sponsor last month featuring Cyntoia Brown-Long. At 16, Cyntoia was arrested and sentenced to life in prison for killing a man who solicited her for sex. A groundswell of national and international support led to her release from prison in August 2019. Her story highlights the need for much thinking, and legislation, about trafficking to change.

Human trafficking awareness month has come to a close, and we were honored to wrap up the events with an incredible evening hearing from Cyntoia Brown-Long. It may come as a surprise to some, but the evening was not one focused on explicit, trauma-filled details about her experience. And yet, or perhaps because of that, it was filled with encouragement and inspiration for survivors and allies alike.

After listening to her incredible words of wisdom, words that come from many experiences no one should have to endure, I was left with some significant takeaways:

  • Consent, in every context, must be obtained – whether we are talking about taking pictures, recording, or livestreaming someone who is sharing, even in a public venue. Even giving a welcoming hug to someone we feel close to. As Nikki from the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation reminded us, it’s better to have a moment of awkwardness when asking for permission than causing harm by making an assumption.
  • Relationships can impact every level of response to human trafficking, from prevention, to intervention, to long-term support. If we truly wish to make an impact on our communities, it isn’t only about how many survivors have been served, or how many traffickers have been convicted. We must build healthy relationship with our youth and with our neighbors. Prevention work begins in our communities, on our streets, in our homes.
  • Social norms must be addressed if we are to truly fight human trafficking. It does not happen in a vacuum. This is something we address at our trainings. Truly, in order to eliminate trafficking and exploitation, we must address the social factors that allow and encourage them to exist.

Whether listening to Cyntoia Brown-Long speak, through reading her book, or watching any of the interviews she has conducted (like this one), it is evident that her faith journey has been one of her most profoundly impactful experiences. As she told us, “If you take nothing more away from my story, just take away that I’m here by the grace of God.”

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