Cyntoia Brown, Tuti Tursilawati, and State Violence Against Powerless Women and Girls

Comparisons have been circulating between Cyntoia Brown, the woman sentenced to at least 51 years of prison for, at the age of 16, killing a man who was sexually assaulting her, and frat boy Jacob Anderson, the former Baylor University student who raped a woman at a frat party and was “punished” with three years of suspended probation, mandatory counseling, and a $400 fine. Brown, a lifelong victim of poverty and abuse, will spend her life in prison for something she did as a child; Anderson, the kind of man who could afford Baylor tuition and with enough privilege to rise to the position of fraternity president–king among the assholes!–will be just fine. Maybe he can write a book or go on a speaking tour.

The comparison’s point is clear: we value men, not women; white people, not people of color; and those with wealth and influence. We have no intention on holding wealthy white men accountable for anything. In fact, we give them power so that we don’t have to even try.

But here is a different comparison: Brown to Tuti Tursilawati.

Tursilawati, an Indonesian migrant worker, was executed by Saudi Arabia in November for killing her employer. She claims that she was acting in self-defense against his sexual abuse of her. One million Indonesian women work in Saudi Arabia, most of them as domestic servants, where they are often cut off from the outside world, don’t speak Arabic, and face the risk of human trafficking and other kinds of abuses.

Tursilawati was executed for her “crime” of ending months of sexual abuse that the Saudi government refused to stop. Brown may likely die in prison for using violence to end violence against women that our government, likewise, refuses to address.

So here is the comparison that should make us really uncomfortable: the US to Saudi Arabia.

Is this what we want to be–a nation that punishes powerless women for defending themselves from sexual violence?

Cyntoia Brown’s case tells us the answer.




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