BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Alabama is one of 28 states with a Safe Harbor law, which means victims of human trafficking can’t be charged with prostitution.
This is part of a victim-centered approach taken in the state, but those who work closely with victims say there’s much more work to be done.
“God doesn’t give you a testimony just to sit on it,” said survivor Cyntoia Brown.
Brown says she didn’t know anything about human trafficking growing up and it took her a decade to realize she had been a victim.
“I was a child and I was taken advantage of by adults,” she said.
Trafficked by her boyfriend, at the age of 16, Brown was sentenced to life in prison after she shot and killed a man who allegedly paid $150 to have sex with her.
“Every single one of my appeals had been denied. Every court I had gone before had told me I was going to spend the rest of my life in prison,” she said.
Her case garnered national attention when celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Rihanna backed her release.
Six months ago, her sentence was commuted and she was freed.
Since her release, Brown has been vocal that victims of trafficking should not only be immune from prostitution charges, but any other crimes committed while they were being victimized.
In Alabama, trafficking has been a hot topic in the legislature.
“It’s one of those issues that has gotten bipartisan support,” said Rep. Merika Coleman.
A bill requiring trafficking training in new trucker licensees was pushed through the house and senate last year. But others on the topic were vetoed.
Some schools in Alabama provide trafficking education but the state board of education doesn’t require it.
“We need to make sure our students in the state of Alabama have the tools they need so that they won’t fall victim or prey so that if they see something they’ll also know who to report that to,” Coleman said.
Brown says if she had learned about trafficking, she may have recognized the signs sooner. as she shares her story across the country, she says education, is part of her purpose.
“I don’t want another young girl to go through what I went through. I don’t want to see it happening again. It happens all over the country. I want it to stop,” Brown said.
Rep. Coleman has championed this cause legislatively. She will also introduce a number of trafficking bills in the current session.
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