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Cyntoia Brown-Long: 'It took me years to realise I was a trafficking victim'

Cyntoia Brown-Long Image copyright CBS
Image caption Cyntoia Brown-Long spent 15 years in jail

Cyntoia Brown-Long was just 16 when she was jailed for life for shooting dead an estate agent who had picked her up for sex.

She had run away from home and was being sent out onto the streets to make money for a pimp when she killed 43-year-old Johnny Allen.

After being convicted of murder in 2004, Cyntoia was told she wouldn't be eligible for release until she was in her 60s.

But she was freed in August this year after being granted clemency by the governor of Tennessee.

A campaign to get her released was backed by celebrities including Rihanna and Kim Kardashian-West.

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Media captionWoman freed in Kardashian clemency case

Now 31, Cyntoia, from Tennessee, has spoken about her life and says it took her "many, many years" to realise she was a victim of abuse.

"I was in my late twenties when I actually realised that I was a trafficking victim," she told CBS News

"For so long, you know I had thought, 'No, they said that I was a teenage prostitute. I knew what I was doing'."

Cyntoia had a tough upbringing.

She ran away from home and got involved with a pimp called Kutthroat who she saw as her boyfriend.

But he sexually abused her and sent her out onto the streets to earn him money.

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Cyntoia says she regrets running away from home because of the pain it caused her mum.

"One of my biggest regrets is the way that I hurt my mother," she said. "You know she tried so hard. She tried everything that she knew to try."

Cyntoia says she's questioned why she was so vulnerable and got sucked in by her pimp.

"You know there's a certain element where you're just vulnerable because you're a child your mind is just naturally impressionable in that way.

"But it was like 'Why was it just so easy for this man to come along and in the space of a few weeks I was doing these things?'"

Image copyright Nashville Police Department
Image caption Cyntoia Brown spent 15 years in jail

Cyntoia says when she first went to prison she "struggled with anger and "struggled with shame".

"I blamed myself for a lot of the situations that I was in. And I was really harsh on myself.

"And it was a process of learning to forgive myself to understand that every situation that I was placed in, you know.

"It wasn't like I was just willingly making these decisions. I was a child."

During her time in prison, Cyntoia studied for a degree and met her now-husband J Long - who wrote letters to her.

The couple got married in August after her release.

Cyntoia says her husband's letters were "unique" and it's "incredible" they are able to now build a life together.

"I really feel like I live with my best friend," she said.

Image copyright CBS News
Image caption Cyntoia was originally told she would have to spend at least 51 years in jail

As part of her release, Cyntoia has to do community service and she works with young women who have been through the juvenile court system.

"They let me come along and talk to the girls about my story, we discuss healthy relationships, boundaries, and really just develop a relationship with those girls.

"And let them know that there's someone there for them."

She says she hopes other young girls can learn from her story.

"I think if I had met someone who had been through those situations and who could tell me how they got through it, how I could avoid some of the same mistakes they made, that I could see myself in that person, I think it would have made a big difference."

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