Guest Editorial…Do your part to protect a child and limit underage prostitution

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by Shannon Williams

Being a journalist, and even a private citizen in such a contentious and corrupt society can sometimes desensitize me to certain things. While I’m a bit desensitized at times, it doesn’t mean I’m not empathetic to the ills of this world, because I am; rather it means that few things surprise me anymore.

I believe I began to feel this way after 9/11. The 2001 attack on America was so horrific and unjustifiable that still today, the deed remains incomprehensible to me. Thirteen months after 9/11, my mom passed away. And during the same month of my mom’s death, John Allen Muhammad and his juvenile accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo began a shooting rampage on the east coast, killing 10 people and critically wounding three others.

Perhaps it was the emotional stress during that time period, or simply shock, but I haven’t been the same since. Very few things in the media since that period of time have affected me to the point of feeling overwhelmed with grief, sadness and physically sick—until this week.

Earlier this week, I was reminded of how horribly sick, irrational, insensitive and cruel people can be.

When I learned of the disappearance of 5-year-old Shaniya Davis of North Carolina, I was saddened. I remember thinking of some of the other recent cases of missing girls throughout the country and how so many of the outcomes resulted in death. So while I was sad and perhaps even a bit too realistic or pessimistic in my thinking, I didn’t get that overwhelming feeling in the pit of my stomach like I did in 2001 and 2002.

That feeling eventually came, however, when I learned that Davis’ mother, Antoinette Davis offered the child for sex. The feeling became even more overwhelming when I saw surveillance video of the male perpetrator, Mario Andrette McNeill carrying the innocent and barefoot Shaniya into a seedy motel.

Looking at the pictures I was overcome with grief because Shaniya looked like any other 5-year-old. Little did she know of the torture before her.

After only an hour at the motel, McNeill and the child left.

Shaniya’s lifeless body was found near a heavily wooded road.

What’s even more unfortunate than Shaniya’s fate is that she wasn’t the first child to endure such circumstances, nor will she be the last. As a matter of fact, the U.S. Department of Justice says child prostitution has become a problem of epidemic proportions with estimates ranging between 300,000 and 800,000. Those figures are even higher when one considers the number of homeless kids, teen runaways and cast-offs who are unaccounted for.

Child prostitution is an inconvenient truth that many Americans choose to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to. It seems to be easier for some people to think that human trafficking is a problem in foreign and impoverished countries rather than here in the United States.

Well, it’s time for people to wake up and face reality. Human trafficking is a major problem in the United States and something has to be done about it.

As I mentioned, Shaniya isn’t the only child who has endured such maltreatment. As you read these words, there’s probably a child somewhere in Indiana who has been sold for sex. Even if a child hasn’t been sold into prostitution, I’d bet my last dollar that there’s a child who is being molested—right now.

So, what are we going to do about it?

One thing we have to do is be more accountable adults. This means paying attention to things, even when it’s not necessarily our business. Gone are the days when all parents have their child’s best interest at heart, so it’s up to us to be the eyes and ears of our community and for these kids. We must pay attention to even the smallest things and report any wrongdoings. This is especially true for administrators and educators. Abused children exhibit certain characteristics that can be indicators of mistreatment. If you interact with children on a regular basis, pay attention to the signs and don’t be afraid to voice concerns if you suspect a child to be in danger.

We also have to make sure that our elected officials are doing all they can to ensure that there are programs in place that will protect and assist families in need. At the end of this year a wonderful local organization that helps families during crises will close its doors because of funding. Youth Emergency Services provides comfort to families during challenging times and prides itself on intervening before a situation becomes a crisis. Come Dec. 31, what will happen to the families that YES services?

In addition to the aforementioned, we really have to tackle the drug and mental illness problems that plague our communities. Once we combat these problems, we’ll probably see a decrease in violent crimes and sexual offenses.

I’m committed now more than ever to be a better observer and advocate for people who are underserved and mistreated. Doing so will avenge those responsible for Shaniya’s death and keep her memory alive.

(Reprinted from the Indianapolis Recorder.)

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