Every year, Project Censored scours the landscape for the most important stories the mainstream media somehow missed, and every year the task seems to get a bit stranger. This year’s volume of work, “Censored 2020: Through The Looking Glass,” includes the project’s list of the top 25 censored stories from 2018 and 2019 and more about the struggle to bring important hidden truths to light.
6. Survivors of sexual abuse and sex trafficking criminalized for self-defense
On Jan. 7, 2019 outgoing Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam granted clemency to Cyntoia Brown, who had been sentenced to life in prison in 2004, at age 16, for killing a man who bought her for sex and raped her. Brown’s case gained prominence via the support of A-list celebrities and Haslam cited “the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life.” But despite public impressions, Brown’s case was far from unique.
“There are thousands of Cyntoia Browns in prison,” Mariame Kaba, co-founder of Survived and Punished, told Democracy Now! the next day.
“We should really pay attention to the fact that we should be fighting for all of those to be free,” Kaba said. “When you look at women’s prisons, the overwhelming majority, up to 90 percent of the people in there, have had histories of sexual and physical violence prior to ending up in prison.”
“In contrast to the spate of news coverage from establishment outlets, which focused on Brown’s biography and the details of her case,” Project Censored wrote, “independent news organizations, including The Guardian, Democracy Now!, Rolling Stone and Mother Jones, stood out for reporting that cases like Brown’s are all too common.”
Later in January, Kellie Murphy’s Rolling Stone story quoted Alisa Bierria, another Survived and Punished co-founder, and highlighted several other cases prominent in alternative media coverage. In May, Mother Jones reported on the legislative progress that Survived and Punished and its allies had achieved in advancing state and federal legislation.
“Corporate news organizations provided considerable coverage of Cyntoia Brown’s clemency,” Project Censored noted. “However, many of these reports treated Brown’s case in isolation, emphasizing her biography or the advocacy on her behalf by celebrities such as Rihanna, Drake, LeBron James and Kim Kardashian West.”
It went on to cite examples from the New York Times and NBC News that did take a broader view, but failed to focus on sex trafficking or sexual violence.