PROJECT CENSORED • The Top 10 Censored Stories of 2019 - Part 2 in a Series

Posted In: Politics, , News, ,   From Issue 893   By: Project Censored

11th March, 2020     0

The presentation of the Top Ten Censored Stories of 2018-2019 extends the tradition originated by Professor Carl Jensen and his Sonoma State University students in 1976, while reflecting how the expansion of the Project to include affiliate faculty and students from campuses across North America has made the Project even more diverse and robust.

During this year’s cycle, Project Censored reviewed over 300 Validated Independent News stories (VINs) representing the collective efforts of 283 college students and 24 professors from 15 college and university campuses that participated in the Project’s Campus Affiliates Program during the past year.

This is the second part in our series, which started last issue with the Top Three stories.

4. US Oil and Gas Industry Set to Unleash 120 Billion Tons of New Carbon Emissions. October 8, 2019

The US oil and gas industry has the potential to “unleash the largest burst of new carbon emissions in the world” through 2050, according to a January 2019 report from Oil Change International, an organization that works to expose the true costs of fossil fuels and advocates for clean energy.

Oil Change International’s coverage is based on a study, “Drilling Towards Disaster,” produced in collaboration with, Amazon Watch, the Center for Biological Diversity, Food & Water Watch, Greenpeace USA, and a dozen other organizations. According to the report, new US oil and gas development could enable 120 billion tons of new carbon pollution, the equivalent to “the lifetime CO2 emissions of nearly 1,000 coal-fired power plants.”

Between now and 2030, the United States is likely to account for 60 percent of the world’s projected growth in oil and gas production. According to Kelly Trout, one of the report’s coauthors, the findings present “an urgent and existential emergency for lawmakers in the United States at all levels of government.”

The “Drilling Towards Disaster” report highlights a five-point agenda for what policymakers must do to check climate change, including, for example, banning new leases or permits for new fossil fuel exploration, production, and infrastructure; ending subsidies and other public finance for the fossil fuel industry; and championing a Green New Deal to promote transition to 100 percent renewable energy.

Asserting that there is “no more time to waste,” another of the report’s coauthors, Lorne Stockman, noted that, although the Trump administration and fossil fuel backers “portray climate change as a false choice between the economy and the environment,” their actions “favor an irresponsible and outdated fossil fuel sector over a clean energy sector that has proven it can deliver on jobs, economic growth, and reliable cheap energy.”

David Turnbull, “Report: U.S. Oil and Gas Expansion Threatens to Unleash Climate Pollution Equivalent to Nearly 1,000 Coal Plants,” Oil Change International, January 16, 2019,

Jake Johnson, “With US ‘Drilling Towards Disaster,’ Report Warns Anything Less Than Urgent Green New Deal will be ‘Too Little, Too Late,’” Common Dreams, January 16, 2019,

Student Researcher: Tommy Hunt (City College of San Francisco)

5. “Modern Slavery” in the United States and Around the World • October 8, 2019

According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index, an estimated 403,000 people in the United States were living in conditions of “modern slavery” in 2016. As the Guardian reported, the Global Slavery Index defines “modern slavery” broadly to include forced labor and forced marriage.

The Global Slavery Index (GSI) is produced by the Walk Free Foundation, an organization that combines research and direct engagement to influence governments and businesses to address modern slavery as a human rights issue. The GSI draws on national surveys, reports from other agencies, such as the United Nations’ International Labour Organization, and databases of people who have been assisted in trafficking cases.

According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index, an estimated 40.3 million people were living in modern slavery in 2016, with females comprising the majority of the victims (71 percent). The index found the highest levels of modern slavery in North Korea, where an estimated 2.6 million people—or one-tenth of the population—are victims of modern slavery.

Andrew Forrest, one of Walk Free’s cofounders, told the Guardian that the prevalence of modern slavery in the United States was “truly staggering” and “only possible through a tolerance of exploitation.” The GSI noted that forced labor occurred “in many contexts” in the United States, including in agriculture, among traveling sales crews, and—as recent legal cases against GEO Group, Inc. have revealed—as the result of compulsory prison labor in privately owned and operated detention facilities contracted by the Department of Homeland Security.

The report further noted that migrants—and especially migrant women and children—are “particularly vulnerable” to modern slavery in the United States due to a variety of factors, including immigration status, lack of familiarity with US employment protections, and the fact that migrants often work in jobs that are “hidden from the public view and unregulated by the government.” In addition, the report noted, “Increasingly restrictive immigration policies have further increased the vulnerability of undocumented persons and migrants to modern slavery.”

As the Guardian reported, according to the GSI, the estimate of 403,000 people enslaved in the United States actually understates the country’s role in contributing to global slavery, because the United States imports many products—including laptop computers, mobile phones, clothing, fish, cocoa, and timber—that are “at risk of being produced through forced labor.”

Apart from the Guardian article, the 2018 Global Slavery Index received limited coverage in the New York Times, and by CNN and CBS News. The Times’s coverage highlighted the case of a former North Korean slave who is now a student at Columbia University, leaving details about the prevalence of slavery in the United States to the article’s later paragraphs. CNN noted that the report listed the United States as “a world leader” in addressing forced labor in supply chains, while CBS News reported that “the U.S. does better than most countries in tackling the issue.” In March 2019 a Forbes article that reported on the United Nations’s International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade drew on data from the Global Slavery Index, but also noted “limitations” to the data on modern slavery.

Edward Helmore, “Over 400,000 People Living in ‘Modern Slavery’ in US, Report Finds,” The Guardian, July 19, 2018,

Student Researcher: Hogan Reed (University of Vermont)

6. Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Sex Trafficking Criminalized for Self-Defense • October 8, 2019

The case of Cyntoia Brown—who was sentenced in 2004, at age 16, to life in prison for killing a man who bought her for sex and raped her—garnered the support of A-list celebrities and received widespread news coverage. In January 2019, after Brown had served fifteen years in prison, Tennessee governor Bill Haslam granted her clemency, describing her case as “tragic and complex” and citing “the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life.” 

In contrast to the spate of news coverage from establishment outlets, which focused on Brown’s biography and the details of her case, independent news organizations—including the Guardian

Democracy Now!Rolling Stone, and Mother Jones—stood out by reporting that cases like Brown’s are all too common. Victims of sex trafficking and sexual violence are often prosecuted for acts of self-defense. In a January 2019 interview, Mariame Kaba, the cofounder of Survived and Punished, an organization supporting survivors of violence who have been criminalized for self-defense, told

Democracy Now!, “There are thousands of Cyntoia Browns in prison.”

In an article published by the Guardian in January 2019, Kaba wrote that multiple studies indicate “between 71% and 95% of incarcerated women have experienced physical violence from an intimate partner,” and many have experienced “multiple forms of physical and sexual abuse” in childhood and as adults, a pattern that experts have described as the “abuse-to-prison” pipeline. On Democracy Now!, Kaba referred to activist Susan Burton, another incarcerated survivor, who has argued that the system essentially works to “incarcerate trauma” when sexually-abused victims are sentenced to prison for self-defense. 

Tracing contemporary attitudes toward women of color defending themselves against sexual abuse back to myths that arose in the 19th century during slavery, Kaba noted in her Guardian article that black women “have always been vulnerable to violence” in the United States and “have long been judged as having ‘no selves to defend.’” Today, she wrote, self-defense laws that are “interpreted generously” when applied to white men threatened by men of color are often interpreted “very narrowly” when women of color and gender nonconforming people invoke them in domestic violence and sexual assault cases.

While Cyntoia Brown’s case eventually received national attention, the public remains unaware of many more stories like hers because establishment news outlets seldom treat them as newsworthy. For example, in 2012, Marissa Alexander was convicted in Florida of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, when she used a gun (which she was licensed to own) to fire a single warning shot into the air to deter her abusive husband. In a pretrial hearing, the judge ruled that the state’s “stand-your-ground” law did not apply to Alexander’s defense because she did not “appear afraid.”

As Kaba reported in her Guardian article, a jury found Alexander guilty after just twelve minutes of deliberation. Alexander was sentenced to a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years. In January 2017, after two years of house arrest and three years of incarceration, Alexander was freed through what Kaba described as “good lawyering and a national participatory legal defense organizing campaign.” 

Responding in part to publicity generated by Cyntoia Brown’s case, lawmakers in Congress and three states have proposed legislation that would “overhaul how courts treat juvenile sex trafficking victims tried as adults for committing crimes against their abusers,” Mother Jones reported in May 2019. Under existing state and federal laws, juvenile victims who commit serious crimes, such as murder, are often tried in adult courts—without considering that victims of sex trafficking may resort to violence in efforts to escape their situation. Historically, the trauma experienced by victims of sex trafficking “has not been well understood and hasn’t been taken into account when deciding the cases of victims who commit crimes,” Olivia Exstrum reported for Mother Jones.

Citing research on how the trauma of being sex trafficked can affect decision-making, especially by young people, the legislation in process in Congress and in Nevada, Arkansas, and Hawaii would have judges consider the effect of trauma on offenders’ conduct and would give courts the authority to ignore mandatory minimum sentencing requirements in such cases. James Dold, the founder of the nonprofit Human Rights for Kids, which helped draft the model legislation, told Mother Jones that, to his knowledge, this is the first time that legislation at the federal or state level has sought to address defendants who have been victims of juvenile sex trafficking.

A 2019 United Nations report, issued by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, found that human trafficking continues to rise. According to the report, “Most of the victims detected globally are trafficked for sexual exploitation,” and the “vast majority” of those victims are female. 

Corporate news organizations provided considerable coverage of Cyntoia Brown’s clemency. However, many of those 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. On January 17, 2019, the New York Times published an article on how Brown’s case had inspired “a push for juvenile criminal justice reform” in Tennessee, where she had been convicted and served her sentence. Although this report noted that Brown was “a teenage trafficking victim,” it focused on the sentencing of people who were minors when they committed crimes, rather than on sex trafficking or sexual violence as circumstances that lead some minors to engage in acts of self-defense that result in criminal prosecution

An NBC News report took a similar tack, emphasizing age (“young people tried in adult courts”) and race (“one of many young black women and girls who land in the criminal justice system”) without acknowledging either sex trafficking and sexual violence as factors that often lead to violent acts of self-defense, or racial inequalities in courts’ interpretations of “stand-your-ground” laws when victims act to protect themselves.

Reports that did link Cyntoia Brown’s case to broader patterns of sexual violence and sex trafficking were often filed as opinion pieces, rather than news stories, by corporate news media, as was one exceptionally detailed piece, written by Andrea Powell and published by NBC News. Powell, the founder and executive director of Karana Rising, a nonprofit that supports survivors of human trafficking, explained how credibility bias and racial stereotypes work against many survivors of sex trafficking when they are tried for “crimes they were forced to commit in self-defense or at the hands of their traffickers.”

Girls with histories of juvenile detention, sexual abuse, or running away from foster placements may be seen as less credible, she explained, while racial stereotypes underlie beliefs about girls of color being “less innocent and more sexually mature than their white peers.”

Noting that the “history of child victims of sex trafficking being arrested as prostitutes or worse runs deep in the American criminal justice system,” Powell wrote that, instead of arresting child victims, “we need to legally treat them as traumatized children in need of services.” Powell pointed to New York State’s “Safe Harbor” law, which protects and offers immunity to minors involved in any form of commercial sex, and HOPE Court of Washington, DC, which provides a special court program and direct services for youth survivors of commercial sex exploitation.

Lastly, she noted that the best solution, “a controversial one,” is to stop treating sex workers as criminals: “By treating all sex workers as criminals, we end up criminalizing sex trafficking victims.” 

Mariame Kaba, “Black Women Punished for Self-Defense Must be Freed from Their Cages,” The Guardian, January 3, 2019,

Amy Goodman, “There are Thousands of Cyntoia Browns: Mariame Kaba on Criminalization of Sexual Violence Survivors,” Democracy Now!, January 10, 2019,

Kellie C. Murphy, “Beyond Cyntoia Brown: How Women End Up Incarcerated for Self Defense,” Rolling Stone, January 28, 2019,

Olivia Exstrum, “Child Sex-Trafficking Victims Face Decades behind Bars for Killing Their Abusers. That Could End Soon,” Mother Jones, May 9, 2019,

Student Researcher: Jaidene Samiec (North Central College)

Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)



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