Advocates Say Cyntoia Brown's Case Is Part Of The 'Sexual Abuse-To-Prison' Pipeline

In a moment when the country is grappling with issues of sexual misconduct and the abusive treatment of women and girls, a murder case involving a then-teenager who says she was forced into prostitution is back in the national spotlight more than a decade after the key events took place.

A number of A-list celebrities, including Rihanna, LeBron James and Kim Kardashian West, have taken an interest in the case of Cyntoia Brown, a 29-year-old serving a life sentence for the murder of a Nashville man in 2004.

Brown says she was forced into prostitution when she was 16 and repeatedly raped and abused by her pimp. That year, a 43-year-old man picked her up in a parking lot and took her to his home for sex, where she says she thought he was going to kill her for resisting him. That’s when she fatally shot him.

When she was tried as an adult in the murder, the jury rejected her claim of self-defense. Now, though, advocates say her case should be reopened so she can be seen as the victim of sex trafficking that she was.

Along with broader issues about the justice system, advocates are also highlighting this case as an example of what they call the “sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline.” Yasmin Vafa, the executive director of the human rights organization Rights4Girls, tells NPR’s Michel Martin about her research into the “pipeline” and why the way the criminal justice system treats victims of human trafficking needs to change.


Interview Highlights

On the importance of Cyntoia Brown’s case

I think that what is interesting about Cyntoia’s case is that she was arrested back in 2004, which was a year before our federal anti-trafficking laws even contemplated the fact that Americans could even be victims of sex trafficking. And so now of course we know all these years later that not only are American citizens able to be victims of sex trafficking, but in fact the vast majority of sex trafficking victims here in the United States are U.S.-born and are U.S. citizens.

Yasmin Vafa, the executive director of the human rights organization Rights4Girls, says Cyntoia Brown’s case is an example of the “sexual abuse-to-prison” pipeline that leads some of the most vulnerable women and girls into the criminal justice system.

Bethany Bandera

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Bethany Bandera

Many of them, like Cyntoia, are girls of color, many of them have suffered multiple instances of childhood sexual abuse, have had some interaction with the foster care system. And so her story really shows a narrative of so many young women and girls that we know.

On the 2015 report examining the “sexual abuse-to-prison” pipeline

In a number of states that had available data looking at girls in the [prison] system, the overwhelming majority of girls behind bars had suffered instances of sexual and physical violence. In some states like South Carolina it was 81 percent of girls; in places like Oregon it was upwards of 93 percent. So when we looked at those high rates of traumas together, with the most common offenses that girls were being arrested for, it really made clear that it was that victimization that was driving the abuse.

So sometimes that looks like a young girl who’s running away from an abusive home or foster care situation who is then arrested for the offense of running away. And sometimes that looks like a girl who is engaging in substance abuse to cope with the years of trauma. And in the most extreme cases, it looks like what happened to Bresha Meadows, what happened to Cyntoia Brown — in the case that they were actually forced to take more extreme measures to protect themselves as a result of society essentially failing them.

And I think that it’s not a coincidence that the whole issue of Cyntoia Brown has made a kind of resurgence during the wake of these “me too” disclosures because I think it shows what “me too” looks like for some of our most vulnerable girls.

NPR Digital News Intern Isabel Dobrin produced this story for the Web.

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Reports: CVS To Buy Health Insurer Aetna For $69 Billion

A CVS store is pictured in 2015 in San Francisco. CVS Health is reportedly preparing to purchase Aetna for $69 billion.

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CVS is preparing to buy the health insurance giant Aetna for $69 billion, according to multiple news reports citing anonymous sources with knowledge of the deal.

The acquisition, which has been reportedly in talks for months, would be one of the largest such mergers in the history of health care. It would combine CVS Health Corp, which has more than 9,000 pharmacy stores and more than 1,000 walk-in clinics, with an insurance company that covers more than 22 million members.

CVS reportedly will pay $207 in cash and stock for each Aetna share, reflecting a 29 percent premium over Aetna’s share price on Oct. 25, The Associated Press reports. (Oct. 25 is the last day not affected by talk of the sale; on the 26th, The Wall Street Journalreported on CVS and Aetna’s acquisition talks.)

In October, Amanda Starc, associate professor of strategy at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, spoke with NPR about the implications of any deal between CVS and Aetna.

She noted that CVS is not just “the drugstore on the corner.”

“In practice, CVS provides a lot of drug insurance through something called a pharmacy benefits manager,” Starc says. Large national insurers like Blue Cross Blue Shield already contract with CVS for their pharmacy benefits.

In fact, that program accounts for “the majority of their revenue,” Starc says. “So while you might think of them as the drugstore, they’re ultimately a big insurance company.”

Buying Aetna will make CVS even more of an insurance company, instead of a retail pharmacy.

“It will allow them to have a large, captive audience for that insurance arm, and that might allow them to do a couple of things. They might be able to negotiate lower drug prices from manufacturers by virtue of their sheer size,” she says — while noting that doesn’t necessarily mean lower prices for consumers.

“They might also be able to better align your pharmacy benefits and your health care benefits,” she says. For instance, an integrated insurer could “provide pharmacy benefits to incentivize you to do things like fill your blood pressure pills so that you don’t end up in the hospital.”

As The Wall Street Journalpreviously noted, and The New York Times and Bloomberg emphasize today, Amazon is one motivation for CVS to buy Aetna. The web-based behemoth, which has shaken up so many industries, is now eyeing the pharmacy business, prompting companies like CVS to worry about their future.

The Wall Street Journalnotes that Aetna also faces challenges of its own — “A judge’s decision led Aetna earlier this year to give up its planned acquisition of Humana Inc. and [Aetna] has retreated from the unprofitable Affordable Care Act exchange business, leaving it with an unclear path to future growth, analysts say. It also lacks the diversity of larger rival UnitedHealth Group Inc., which has a fast-expanding health-services arm that includes a pharmacy-benefits manager as well as doctor practices and surgery centers.”

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Famed Conductor At The Met Accused Of Molesting Teenager For Years In The '80s

Former Boston Symphony Orchestra music director James Levine, conducts the symphony on its opening night performance at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass., in 2016. Levine, who was also the music director of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, has been accused of sexually abusing a teenager in Illinois in the ’80s.

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James Levine, a legendary conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, has been accused of sexually abusing a teenager in Illinois for a period of several years in the 1980s.

Levine, now 74, was the music director at the Met for four decades. He has recently suffered a variety of health problems and retired from his headline role at the Met last year, but continues to conduct occasional performances.

Officials at the Met were reportedly made aware of the allegations sometime in 2016. On Saturday, the Met said on Twitter that an investigation has been launched, with the help of “outside resources,” to evaluate the veracity of the claims.

We are deeply disturbed by the news articles that are being published online today about James Levine. We are working on an investigation w outside resources to determine whether charges of sexual misconduct in the 1980s are true, so that we can take appropriate action.

— Metropolitan Opera (@MetOpera) December 3, 2017

The allegations, first described by the New York Post, were described in a police report that was filed in 2016. In that report, a man says that he met Levine as a child in Illinois, where Levine was a conductor at the Ravinia Music Festival each summer.

In the report the man alleges that in 1985, when he was 15 and Levine was 41, Levine held his hand in a “prolonged and incredibly sensual way” while they were alone in a car, the Post reports. The following year Levine began to touch the teenager’s genitalia and masturbate in front of him. The ensuing sexual contact lasted for years, according to the allegation.

Levine also served as a mentor to the teenager, wrote a college recommendation essay, and gave him tens of thousands of dollars of cash, the Post writes.

There were “hundreds of incidents,” the alleged victim said. The man, who says he is straight and that he was not aroused by any of their interactions, wrote in the report that he was “confused and paralyzed” by Levine’s actions.

The New York Times has also seen a copy of the police report, and confirmed the stories contained in the report with the alleged victim and with one of his relatives. The Times also notes that rumors of sexual misconduct have swirled around Levine, unconfirmed, for years.

The Times reports that Levine invited the victim to audition as a conductor, and told him that he should focus on “other talents” — while continuing to promise to “raise [him] ‘special’ ” in some way. The young man first told a relative about the abuse in 1993, the newspaper her writes; he reported it to police in 2016, after realizing that Levine’s behavior had negatively affected his life.

The allegations describe acts that would be criminal in Illinois, but the statute of limitations for sex crimes with children had expired by the time the police report was filed, the Post says.

Police from Lake Forest, Ill., spoke to Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met, among other people, the Times reports:“Met officials acknowledged they had been aware of the police report since last year, but said that Mr. Levine had denied the accusation and that they had heard nothing further from the police.”

The Met’s announcement of an investigation does not mention prior knowledge of the allegations; it cites media reports as the inspiration for taking action.

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The Boom Was A Bust: Pontiac Silverdome Blows Up, Doesn't Come Down

Planned demolition of the Pontiac Silverdome’s upper ring (apparently) unsuccessful as charges go off but the metal beams do not come down. Details @WWJ950pic.twitter.com/B8Vsn8Vuq5

— Jon Hewett (@JonHewettWWJ) December 3, 2017

Charges went off. Smoke went up.

But the Pontiac Silverdome didn’t come down.

The aging structure in Michigan — the former home of the Detroit Lions, and at one time the largest NFL stadium — was slated for demolition on Sunday, but the explosion was a failure.

Executives with Adamo Group, the company in charge of the demolition, say a wiring problem caused 10 percent of the charges to fail to go off, the Detroit Free Pressreports.

The #Silverdome before, during and after the detonation.

Kind of says it all.

(Photos by @junfuphoto) pic.twitter.com/DuselR0cWi

— Detroit Free Press (@freep) December 3, 2017

The building hasbeen weakened, however, and could fall at any time, the Free Press reports. The newspaper spoke to Adamo Group executive vice president Rick] Cuppetilli.

“Excavators will be used this week to take out the structure unless gravity causes it to fall on its own before then, Cuppetilli said,” the Free Press writes. “So far there are no plans for a second explosion attempt.”

Does Twitter have jokes?

Of course, Twitter has jokes — mostly venting frustrations with the historical performance of the Detroit Lions.

The Pontiac Silverdome did not implode this morning. I guess the building is not used to implosion on a Sunday until 1 pm.

— Terry Foster (@TerryFoster971) December 3, 2017

My league people are telling me that the reason the Pontiac Silverdome did not fall this morning is because Barry Sanders is holding up the steel beams

— Terry Foster (@TerryFoster971) December 3, 2017

They tried to implode the Pontiac Silverdome. It didn’t work, like most game plans in there on Sundays. https://t.co/lqHurKlRhS

— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) December 3, 2017

Once again angry people leave the Silverdome after a disappointing ending pic.twitter.com/6zvEXU8lGz

— Drew & Mike Podcast (@DrewMikePodcast) December 3, 2017

We’re 10 minutes post-explosion & the #Silverdome is still standing. The place must be waiting until the 4th quarter to actually implode.

— Jeremy Klumpp (@Klumpp13) December 3, 2017

After attempting to implode the Pontiac Silverdome, the Lions now still have as many successful Stadium implosions as they do Super Bowl trophies pic.twitter.com/4v8KZVIz4f

— Someone’s An Idiot (@SomeonesAnIdiot) December 3, 2017

Fitting end for the #silverdome. Even the walls are afraid to cross the goal line.

— Tom Corey (@TomRCorey) December 3, 2017

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Bloody Battles Waged On The Streets Of Yemen's Capital, As Alliances Appear To Shift

Smoke billows behind a building in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Sunday, during clashes between Houthi rebels and supporters of Yemeni ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

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In Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, Iran-backed Houthi rebels are clashing with supporters of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh — an outburst of deadly violence between two groups that have recently been allies.

Meanwhile, the Houthi rebels are claiming to have fired a missile at a nuclear power plant under construction in the United Arab Emirates. The claim has been denied by state media in UAE.

The WAM news agency also says that the UAE would have the ability to shoot down such a missile, if it were fired, The Associated Press reports.

Last month, Houthi rebels fired a missile at an international airport near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. As we reported at the time, Saudi missile defense forces shot down that missile, although debris from the attack did rain down on the airport.

In retaliation for that missile, Saudi Arabia shut down land, air and sea routes into Yemen, restricting aid access. That blockade move that was criticized by human rights groups, which noted that Yemen’s civilians were already suffering an acute humanitarian crisis that would only be exacerbated by a blockade.

Aid supplies began reentering Yemen about a week ago, after three weeks of Saudi blockade. The blockade continues to be partially enforced.

War has been raging in Yemen for more than two years. On the one side is currently exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is supported by a Saudi-led coalition. Hadi, a former deputy of Saleh who ousted that authoritarian leader to take power in 2011, is living in Saudi Arabia, while his government is currently located in Aden, a city in Yemen’s south.

On the other side are the Houthi rebels and the supporters of former president Saleh, who joined forces to fight the Saudi-led coalition. As of last month, the Houthi and pro-Saleh controlled much of western Yemen, including the capital of Sanaa, the BBC reports.

But exactly whocontrols the capital now appears to be in dispute, as alliance between the Houthis and the Saleh supporters is splintering.

The BBC reports that former president Saleh has offered to initiate talks with the Saudi coalition, giving a televised speech in which he asked for an end to the siege on Yemeni ports and offered, in exchange, to “turn a new page” and “deal with them in a positive way.”

The overture was welcomed by President Hadi and by the Saudi-led coalition, the BBC says. The Houthi rebels, meanwhile, called it “a coup against our alliance and partnership.”

If the supporters of Saleh do switch sides and join the coalition and Hadi, “the Houthis would become completely isolated,” The Associated Press reports.

For the past five days, the AP writes, Houthi and pro-Saleh forces have been clashing in the streets of Sanaa, with deadly consequences:

“According to Sanaa medical officials, nearly 75 people from both sides were killed and wounded in Sanaa’s clashes. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, did not provide a breakdown for the casualties.

“The Sanaa street fighting seems to have split the capital in two parts, with the northern part under the Houthis and the southern under Saleh’s fighters.

“Both sides have set up checkpoints, placed snipers on rooftops and sealed off entrances to the city, which slowed down street movement and traffic. Bombings and sporadic barrage of gunfire rocked the southern part of Sanaa on Sunday.

“Many of the state institutions – including the airport, the TV building and the official news agency – remain under the control of the Houthis, despite some earlier reports that Saleh’s forces had taken over.

“A southern Sanaa district that houses the residential compound of Saleh and his family was engulfed in intense clashes.

“Saudi-run TV networks aired footage from Sanaa showing protesters tearing down posters in support of the Houthis and chanting against the rebels who have held the city and most of the country’s north for the past two years.”

On Friday, U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock appealed for the blockade on Yemen to be fully lifted, Reuters reports.

Twenty-five million people live in Yemen, Lowcock said, “and something like seven or eight million of them are, right now, on the brink of famine.”

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Honduras On The Brink: Curfew Enforced By Military, Opposition Calls For New Election

A masked supporter of candidate Salvador Nasralla yells at fellow protesters to fight police at their roadblock to protest what they call electoral fraud in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on Friday.

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The Honduran government suspended constitutional rights and called for the military to enforce a curfew and disperse protesters over the weekend after a contested election plunged the Central American country into a political crisis.

Honduras is in a state of hostile uncertainty, where ambiguity regarding the outcome of elections has led to deadly confrontations with state forces.

On Saturday, The Associated Press reported that the main opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla called for the presidential elections to be held again.

” ‘I have asked them to repeat the elections, but only those for the presidency, with the aim of resolving the crisis that Honduras is suffering,’ Nasralla told The Associated Press. But he said the new election ‘would be under the supervision of an international electoral tribunal, not the local one, because there aren’t sufficient conditions to guarantee’ the vote would be fair.”

Supporters of Nasralla, who represents the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship coalition, took to the streets in response to the contested election, saying the voting results were manipulated in order for current, U.S.-friendly President Juan Orlando Hernandez to remain in power.

The government announced on Friday that a curfew will be in effect for 10 days, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Regardless of the military-enforced curfew, messages circulating through social media called for a mass demonstration to take place on Saturday night.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, protests in Tegucigalpa — the country’s capital — turned deadly, when 19-year-old Kimberly Dayana Fonseca was shot and killed as troops opened fire on unarmed protesters, The Guardian reported.

Rudy Fonseca, 29, cries next to the coffin containing the remains of his sister Kimberly Dayana Fonseca, 19, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on Saturday. She was shot by gunmen who witnesses say were police.

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Honduras is one of the most violent countries in the Western Hemisphere, where gang and drug violence make it hold one of the world’s highest murder rates. The past week in Honduras has been a turbulent roller coaster, where the disputed election results have further shoved the country towards a crumbling ledge.

A week of waiting

President Hernandez, who represents the right-wing National Party, had been running for a second term. A report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace earlier this year criticized the president’s efforts to consolidate the Honduran government under his party, and the website The Intercept recently reported on Hernandez’s alleged links to drug trafficking.

However, after taking office in early 2014, Hernandez’s tough anti-crime push won support among many Hondurans.

Nasralla, a former sportscaster, challenged Hernandez by running on a platform of fighting corruption under an alliance of various center-left and left-wing parties.

Prior to the elections held last Sunday, rumblings of electoral fraud had been spreading. A day earlier, The Economist released a report on an obtained recording, where alleged members of Hernandez’s National Party could be heard planning to rig the election. The magazine did not confirm the recording’s authenticity.

Almost 10 hours passed after voting ended before the electoral commission — run by members of the incumbent’s National Party — released any information, The New York Times reported. On Monday, Nasralla had taken the lead, with 57 percent of the votes counted by the commission. The opposition candidate had 45 percent of the vote, a 5-point lead to Hernandez’s 40 percent. Nasralla declared himself the winner.

But the electoral commission then stalled, failing to release information as the country waited anxiously for the rest of the results to come in. This prompted European Union election observers to place pressure on officials for a quicker release of information.

Counting resumed on Tuesday afternoon, but the gap began to close. Both Nasralla and Hernandez signed an Organization of American States agreement, where they agreed to accept the commission’s results.

Supporters of Honduran presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla clash with soldiers and riot police near the Electoral Supreme Court (TSE) on Thursday.

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Then, as the AP reports, the electoral court’s computer systems allegedly failed, forcing the country to wait even longer for the results. Nasralla backtracked on the OAS agreement, saying the National Party commission’s irregularities were proof of electoral fraud.

When the court’s system returned, President Hernandez was shown to be winning by a small margin. Nasralla called for his supporters to take to the streets and protest against Hernandez, calling the election process a “cheating system.” On Sunday morning, the commission’s website showed the president still holding a lead.

“The Embassy of the United States of America reiterates its call for all Hondurans to refrain from violence while the result of the November 26 presidential election remain pending,” tweeted Heide Fulton, the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Honduras. “Public gatherings should remain peaceful, as required by Honduran law.”

Nando Destephen, a Honduran journalist living in Tegucigalpa, spoke with NPR and said protesters had blocked off the road on which the election court sits.

“There is a generation of youth that does not accept it anymore,” Destephen said. “At the protests I’ve been to, the line of police is about a meter away, [protesters] throw stones at them, intimidate them, call on those who run away to continue, I saw them throw a molotov cocktail at the police.”

Reflections from2009

The situation conjures memories of the Honduran political crisis from 2009, where a coup d’etat overthrew President Manuel Zelaya. The current leader of the opposition, Nasralla, has Zelaya’s support.

“People have a little bit of fear, and have some tension, because they are reliving 2009,” Destephen says. “They are reliving the entire crisis from the coup of 2009, and the majority of people don’t really like that because it brings back some ugly memories.”

Supporters of Salvador Nasralla set a barricade alight during a protest outside the Electoral Supreme Court (TSE), to demand the announcement of the election final results in Tegucigalpa on Thursday.

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Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

Zelaya was ousted in 2009 after proposing a nonbinding referendum on the issue of presidential re-election. Military leaders removed Zelaya from office, fearing he would attempt to consolidate power with the referendum. Coup supporters also accused Zelaya of becoming too close to the left-wing leadership in Venezuela.

Months later, Porfirio Lobo from the National Party assumed office in elections held by the de facto, coup government.

Under Lobo, violence and corruption in Honduras increased dramatically, as NPR’s Carrie Kahn reported, with the United Nations declaring it to be the most violent country in the world. And as NPR reported in 2012, violence at the hands of police was not uncommon.

In 2013, a contested election brought current President Hernandez to power. During his presidency, Hernandez attempted to consolidate power, placing allies on the Supreme Court, as the Carnegie Endowment notes.

In an ironic twist in 2015, the Supreme Court got rid of the constitution’s term limits, an accusation leveled against Zelaya when he was ousted in 2009. The court’s decision allowed Hernandez run for re-election.

According to a report by Reuters, many believe Zelaya is the “true force behind the coalition” Nasralla is running under. Last week, the opposition candidate said he would review the U.S. troop presence at a military base in the country.

Last year, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said Honduras suffers from a “prevailing cycle of impunity.” The U.S. continues to send money to the country.

The 2016 death of activist Berta Caceres symbolized a culmination of the country’s violence, from which many thousands of migrants continue to leave — bound for the U.S.

Jose Olivares is a Digital News intern.

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