Shaniya's story reveals widespread sex trafficking in black community

OPINION - No one can imagine what little Shaniya Davis went through in the first 48 hours after she was declared missing...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

No one can imagine what little Shaniya Davis went through in the first 48 hours after she was declared missing. No one would have imagined that after only a few weeks of living with her mother, she would be sold as a sex slave and that her half naked body will be found on the side of the road a few days later. No one knew that this poor little baby could have been saved had the first signs of abuse was caught. No one knew, because few know how prevalent human trafficking is in the black community.

According to the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), human trafficking occurs “if a person was induced to perform labor or a commercial sex act through force, fraud, or coercion. Any person under age 18 who performs a commercial sex act is considered a victim of human trafficking, regardless of whether force, fraud, or coercion was present.”

The U.S. Department of Justice reported that as of September 30, 2008 there were 1,229 alleged incidents of human trafficking. Of human trafficking suspects for whom a race designation was available, blacks represented the largest category (36 percent). Furthermore, blacks accounted for the largest percentage of overall sex trafficking suspects at 44 percent and the largest percentage of child sex trafficking suspects at 52 percent. The U.S. DOJ also reported that blacks also accounted for 21 percent of alleged human trafficking victims. That is a scary number considering that blacks made up only 13 percent of the population in the year 2000.

So what can be done about this? First, do your research. Some of the more popular websites and organizations may give the impression that human trafficking is an international issue only affecting Asian and Hispanic populations. Don’t fall into the trap; know your facts – human trafficking suspects do not discriminate on the basis of race. It can happen at any time to anyone and it does happen to black people.

Second, we should recognize that most victims come from vulnerable populations, including runaways and at-risk youth, and the poor. It is especially important to pay special attention to runaways who usually, because of young age, do not have the means to survive on their own. According to the National Runaway Switchboard, 10 percent of runaways turned to sex to survive. That number jumps to 28 percent for those who lived on the streets.

For missing and formerly labeled “runaway” honor student, Yasmin Acree, it is probably too late. It took over a year for the police to admit that they mishandled her case and say that she was indeed missing and did not run away from home. How many more mishandled cases will it take for the police to take notice? How many more runaways or children will have to die at the hand of a pimp because we did not care to pay attention?

It is time for us to take matters into our own hands. Blacks are disproportionally affected in a number of areas; we have to make sure that this is one of those issues that does not fall through the cracks. Between publicizing highly questionable missing person’s cases and demanding the national media take notice, we can lower the number of those who are drawn into human trafficking. It won’t happen overnight, but every little step counts.