Shaniya's Shame

The murder of 5-year-old Shaniya Davis highlights a disturbing and growing trend in the U.S.: the trafficking of young girls into sexual slavery.


The murder of 5-year-old Shaniya Davis, whose body was recently found abandoned in a wooded area of North Carolina, is yet another gruesome reminder of the pervasive violence against girls. Shaniya’s mother, Antoinette Davis, is charged with trafficking her daughter and child abuse involving prostitution.

Shaniya’s story is a heartbreaking one. And it—finally—highlights the issue of sexual violence and exploitation of girls—a problem that is becoming more rampant within U.S. borders. But in one respect, Shaniya’s case is an aberration. Most girls are trafficked by men and pimps, not their mothers.

How many times a month, or in the duration of a year, do we learn of the rape, kidnapping and murder of a girl? In the context of a civilized society, the epidemic level of violence against our girls remains an irreconcilable contradiction.

Here are the unacceptable facts of violence against girls: It cuts across any divide of race, class, ethnicity and educational background. One in four girls will experience some form of sexual violence by the time she reaches 18. Teenaged girls of all races, from across the economic spectrum, are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault. For girls and women ages 15-44, homicide is the leading cause of death. And then there are the countless faces of girls listed as missing in newspapers, on milk cartons or posted signs.

So many of them, like Shaniya, were also subject to being trafficked. It is presently less risky and more profitable to sell girls rather than illegal drugs. As evidenced by the war on drugs or the fierce police response to the trafficking of meth, there are severe repercussions in a culture of crime and punishment for illegal drug trafficking. There is a significantly less punitive culture for selling girls. Rarely do pimps or clients receive serious prison sentences for exploiting girls.