By Gaetane Borders
In the news this week was the story of an adorable 5-year-old girl named Shaniya Davis. The whole world was, seemingly, glued to the news networks because it had been reported that Shaniya had been abducted.
There was hope that she was still alive because a surveillance photo of her being carried by a man into a hotel elevator was released. The man in the video was 29-year-old Mario Andrette McNeill.
By now the world knows that, sadly, Shaniya’s body was found in the woods located near Walker Road off of N.C. 87. Her mother, Antoinette Davis was charged with human trafficking, felony child abuse involving prostitution, filing a false police report and interfering with a police investigation. Mario McNeill was arrested on first-degree kidnapping charges. The unthinkable was brought to light! A mother allegedly sold her child for sex. Her baby… How could this happen? Surely it was an isolated incident…right?
Shaniya’s tragic story is disturbing to say the least. Yet, unfortunately, it is not unique nor uncommon. However, it has forced people to acknowledge that this sort of thing does ABSOLUTELY happen. The image of her…helpless, scared, and petite…being carried by McNeill is graphic and visual proof that there are individuals who prey on children of all ages. Despicable, nauseating, infuriating…but a reality of the world in which we live.
The fight to end the issue of the sex labor industry is not a new one. The Innocence Lost National Initiative started in 2003 to address child sex trafficking in the U.S. Recently, the FBI, its local and state law enforcement partners, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) worked together as part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative. The operation included enforcement actions in 36 cities across 30 FBI divisions around the country, and led to the recovery of 52 children who were being victimized through prostitution. Additionally, nearly 700 others, including 60 pimps, were arrested on state and local charges. To date, the 34 Innocence Lost Task Forces and Working Groups have recovered nearly 900 children from the streets. The investigations and subsequent 510 convictions have resulted in lengthy sentences, including multiple 25-years-to-life sentences and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets. Yet, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The FBI estimates that well over 100,000 children and young women are sex trafficked every day.
So now that we have acknowledged that this crime is prevalent…let’s talk about it in more specifics. Who are these heinous individuals that buy and sell children? They are called traffickers, and are defined as those who recruit, transport, receive, and exploit victims, often using force, threats, or other physical and psychological methods of control. Traffickers include a wide range of criminals, including individual pimps, family operations, small businesses, loose-knit decentralized criminal networks, and international organized criminal operations. They are driven by two primary factors: high profits and low risk.
Who are the victims? There is no one consistent face of a trafficking victim. Trafficked persons can be rich or poor, men or women, adults or children, or foreign nationals or U.S. citizens. Some are well educated with college degrees, while others have no formal education. Although anyone can fall prey to trafficking, victims tend to come from vulnerable populations such as runaways, at-risk youth, the poor, and oppressed and marginalized groups. Traffickers often target individuals in these populations because they are reportedly easiest to recruit and control.
Although the research shows that the disenfranchised are often targeted, don’t think that something like this could not happen to you and your middle to upper middle class family. There is a false sense of security that many of us tend to have because we feel that our circle of elite friends and family and large brick homes buffer us from the inherent cruelty of the world. Here is the reality, however. If you at any time allow your child to spend time on the Internet unsupervised…you have potentially allowed your child to interact with traffickers. I plead with you to install Internet filter programs such as Net Nanny or Cyber Patrol so that you can monitor everything that your child accesses online. Although your child might call you overprotective and you might feel as though you are smothering them…rest assured that you would rather be a nagging overprotective parent than one who is mourning their child’s murder or abduction.
Rest in peace Shaniya…and the millions and millions of Shaniya’s who are out there as well.
Parent with Love,