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Interview with Professor Crystal Hayes on Shaniya Davis: We Deserve to Be Safe

Deona Hooper 2013/06/18

by Deona Hooper, MSW

****Update View Archived Chat****

View the transcript of my guest lecture on sexabuse and sexual assault using the archived live twitter chat on storify: http://storify.com/SWUnited/survivor-of-sex-abuse-and-sexual-assault

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Social Work Professor Crystal Hayes about her disclosure of being sexual abused as a child in an op-ed she wrote in response to the rape and murder of five year old Shaniya Davis. In 2009, Shaniya Davis went missing and was later found dead in a ditch alongside an isolated country road outside of Sanford, North Carolina. The death of Shaniya Davis would later expose a variety of system failures that were suppose to help keep her safe.

On May 29, 2013, a Cumberland County jury in North Carolina sentenced Shaniya’s killer, Mario Andrette McNeil, to death on the grounds of first degree murder, first degree kidnapping, sexual offense of a child, indecent liberties with a child, and human trafficking and sexual servitude which led to her death. Shaniya’s mother, Antoinette Nicole Davis, is currently being held for selling her child to pay off a drug debt, and her trial is scheduled for later this year.

image5681622 Interview with Professor Crystal Hayes on Shaniya Davis: We Deserve to Be SafeAccording to local ABC news affiliate and statements made by District Attorney Ed Grannis, Cumberland County Department of Social Services destroyed emails on their involvement with Shaynia Davis prior to her death.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Grannis said problems started the day Davis was reported missing when DSS left detectives waiting hours for assistance.

“It was critically important that DSS cooperate in every way to save the life of this child, it does not appear that occurred,” said Grannis.

Eventually, he said it took two court orders to force DSS to handover missing documents that were not included in an initial report to the DA’s office.

Grannis also expressed his disappointment with the State Bureau of Investigation who he said referred to DSS’s lack of cooperation as a misunderstanding – even after interviews with DSS staffers revealed high ranking supervisors told agents on the case to print emails and then delete them to prevent the media from accessing details in their investigation of the Davis Family.

“DSS staff was told to delete emails pertaining to this case, and to not email anymore information,” said Grannis.  Read Full Article

What happened to Shaniya Davis impacted Professor Hayes to the point where she felt compelled to disclose a secret she had been carrying around for over 30 years. Removing those barriers of silence has further empowered her to be a better advocate, teacher, and fighter for social justice. Professor Hayes goes more in detail about her decision to disclose her sexual abuse in the article she wrote for the Durham News which can be viewed here. Also, Professor Hayes penned an emotional letter to Shaniya Davis that she would like to share with Social Work Helper readers.  I hope you find this letter as compelling as I do which reads as follows:

Dear Beloved Shaniya:

We deserve to be safe. I am beyond grief stricken by your death and its loss to the world. The man accused of taking your very young precious life has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole, but not the crime of sexual assault. It’s not the justice I wanted for you. I thought any justice would bring relief or closure, but nothing will remove the grief I feel about what happened to you. I grieve for you a lot. I grieve that this world will never know the amazing things your life had to offer. I grieve that you will never get to play or dance again and just be five.  I grieve that you will never get to enjoy another fun day in the park with family and friends. I grieve that you won’t grow up to fuss with your family about curfews or the other things important teens. There are moments when your face appears on my television screen with that beautiful smile and pretty white dress and I lose my breath as I listened to the latest news about your case. Each time, I am reminded that we’ve lost forever an amazing spirit. The man who stole you from us stole an entire future and legacy, but he’s not the only reason you’re gone. We all failed you. The world failed to keep you and women and girls safe. We deserve to be safe.

As a mother of a daughter and a survivor of sexual assault as a child, I am often overwhelmed and tortured by what you must have gone through. What happened to you is absolutely incomprehensible to me even though I know you’re far from alone. I am full of rage that we live in a world that can’t keep children safe and even if this never happened, you were born into a world not safe for girls and women. One in five American women will be the victims of some form of sexual violence in her lifetime.   The United Nations Gender Equity Initiative reminds us that up to 50% of sexual assaults are committed against girls under 16.  In 2002 alone, roughly 150 million girls under the age of 18 suffered some form of sexual violence.  Here, at home, in North Carolina our state is ranked top 8th for human trafficking in the United States according to the North Carolina Coalition Against Human Trafficking.  I worried everyday of my life for the past 21 years for the safety of my daughter. I continue to fear for her in a world where women between the ages of 12 and 34 are the most at risk for sexual assault in our culture. The Center for Disease Control has declared sexual violence a very serious public health crisis.  Beloved Shaniya, we have failed you and girls everywhere in the most basic ways possible and I am deeply sorry. We owe you so much more and all survivors of sexual violence.

As I write this letter to you, I am also reminded that this work isn’t easy. Everyday I fight for the integrity of my soul so that I do not become the very thing I oppose the most: inhumane. It’s difficult to remain human in the face of so much evil, but I know I must do it if I truly want to honor you, the little girl in me who was victimized, and all women and children who feel unsafe everyday. I can promise you that I will spend my life and career committed to justice for you and other victims. I am so sorry that it’s too late for you, but I am not going to give up the struggle to end violence against women and children. I promise to continue to interrupt rape culture wherever I find it no matter how uncomfortable. I will work to build strong allies with men all around the world. I will make sure that our media is held accountable for perpetuating rape culture whenever they sympathize with perpetrators. Most importantly, I will never again remain silent. Audre Lorde has taught me that, “silence will not protect us.” There’s power in telling our stories. It took me nearly 30 years to share with someone what happened to me as a child. I promise you, my own daughter, and women and girls everywhere that I will use my voice in whatever way that I can because we deserve to be safe.

In love and rage,

Crystal

Join us for a live twitter chat on June 19th at 6:00PM EST using the hashtag #SWUnited to discuss violence against girls and women with Professor Crystal Hayes @MotherJustice and her social justice class #SW505. I will be moderating and giving a guest lecture with her class using my twitter handle @swhelpercom. Please, tweet any questions in advance or during the chat to the hashtag #swunited. Also include @swhelpercom if you would like your question to possible be featured during the live chat.

About Author

Deona Hooper

Deona Hooper, MSW is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper. She is experienced in communications, technology and social media consulting with a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Management and Community Practice as well as a Certificate in Nonprofit Management both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Available for consulting and guest lecturing. View all posts by Deona Hooper →

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