Monday, November 16, 2009

The Unthinkable: Shaniya Davis' Body Found

The body of 5 year-old Shaniya Davis was found in Fayetteville, North Carolina this afternoon.  She had been missing since Tuesday, when her mother reported she disappeared from their home.  Since then, a man has been arrested for kidnapping and Shaniya's mother has been arrested for human trafficking and felony child abuse involving prostitution.  In other words, her mother is accused of selling her into the sex trade.

Usually when I blog about a situation in the news that gives you a kick in the gut, the reason has to do with our own safety.  We lead our lives believing the world is safe, and when something shakes that belief it upsets us.  When someone is killed in a mass shooting or a plane crash, it damages our understanding of how the world works as a generally safe place.  We know it could have been us, and we feel scared, or we blame, or we push it away.  These are all healthy defense mechanisms.

This case is different.  Almost no one will learn of little Shaniya Davis and think that it could have been them.  Very few of us will worry for the safety of our own children based on what happened to her.  We feel no personal connection for her particular circumstances.  We don't say, "There but for the grace of God."

But make no mistake about it -- this case very much disturbs a deeply held worldview most of us share.  That belief is that everyone understands that children are special and deserve our protection.  We know there are people who beat their children.  We even reckon, when we have to, with the notion that people sometimes kill their own children.  But the idea that someone would sell their own child for sex at the age of 5 goes beyond that.  It represents not just anger and disdain for human life.  It represents a complete and total disregard for the value of that little girl's life by her own mother.  And we don't believe that mothers are supposed to act that way.

Shaniya Davis' murder may not leave us feeling scared, but it does leave us shaken.  It overwhelms our ability to understand.  We have no convenient space in our minds under which to file this incident.  No schema we have allows us to process it.  That's what makes it traumatic -- for her father, who allowed her to go live with her mother; for the searchers who found her body; and for all of us who think of parenthood as a sacred trust.  This isn't how the world is supposed to work.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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