Today is my first post in the 31 day series of Moments That Changed Everything.
One morning in November of 2009, I was getting dressed for work, just like any other morning. I was standing in front of my closet trying to decide what to wear, while Good Morning America was play on the television. I wasn’t really paying much attention to the news segments but words like “missing” “little girl” “Fayetteville, NC” and “sex slave” floated in the air. My ears perked up a bit because it’s always sad to hear about little children being kidnapped but this one was a bit more heart stirring because it was in Fayetteville, NC, near the military base my sister lived at. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a picture of the little girl that was missing.
Then I stopped breathing.
I was staring into the face of 5-year-old Shaniya Davis. But for a few seconds, I thought I was staring at my niece Kameron.
In those moments before I came back to reality and realized that the girl in the photo on the screen was not my beautiful niece, I literally could not breathe. I had heard enough of the report to know that little Shaniya had been reported missing on November 10, 2009. After 2 days of questioning, her mother admitting selling her daughter to a man for $200.
“He was only supposed to have sex with her” was her mother’s defense.
I wanted to vomit.
All I could think about was the fact that this little girl bore a striking resemblance to my niece who lived near her. I kept trying to imagine what kind of man would buy a 5-year-old child for sex. What kind of mother would intentionally sell her baby for $200 for sex?
Shaniya Davis was my first introduction in the world of sex trafficking.
For the next two days, I followed Shaniya’s story as local police combed the city looking for the man in surveillance footage with the little girl.
I prayed and pleaded with God for her safe return. I read every news report I could find about her. I learned that sex trafficking was not this foreign issue that I had only vaguely seen portrayed in movies. It was happening in the US, right in my city, not just in Fayetteville, NC. I learned that Atlanta, GA was considered one of the top cities in the nation for child sex trafficking. Men were actually paying money to have sex with children in the city I lived in. How had I lived here for almost a decade and not even know it?
Shaniya’s body was found on November 16, 2009. I will never forget sitting in my cubicle crying at the news. I didn’t know this little girl but my heart ached like I had carried her in my own womb. Her death changed something in me. Maybe it was because she reminded me of my niece and the thought of something like that happening to Kameron was too hard to fathom. Maybe it was because she was an innocent little girl whose last few days on Earth were riddled with pain and abuse. Maybe it was God opening my eyes to a global injustice that far too many people turned a deaf ear and blind eye too, including myself.
I am thankful that I caught that glance of Shaniya Davis that morning and that God arrested my heart for her. He knew every little detail of her life and loved her far more than I could ever fathom so I can only imagine how His heart ached for her as well. Out of her death, God birthed in me a desire to advocate for women and children caught in sex trafficking. For everyone woman that I get to pray with and help get off the street, it makes the sting of Shaniya’s death a little less painful. My life has been forever changed in the wake of this tragedy and I call it an honor to fight for other little girls, teenagers and women whose lives are on the brink of being snatched away for a few dollars.