Local News

Fayetteville mother's arrest sheds light on human trafficking problem

Posted November 16, 2009 10:47 p.m. EST
Updated November 17, 2009 8:30 a.m. EST

— North Carolina is a prime destination for human trafficking due to its many highways and interstates, according to Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange.

"It’s out there. It’s out there (and it's) scary,” she said.

Kinnaird has sponsored anti-trafficking legislation before the General Assembly. She said the weekend arrest of a Fayetteville mother on human trafficking and felony child abuse charges shows that the trafficking trade is more prevalent than most people realize.

“I think people just have a view of what our American life is, and it doesn't encompass really evil criminal acts like this,” she said.

According to Fayetteville police, Antoinette Nicole Davis, 25, offered daughter Shaniya for prostitution. The 5-year-old's body was found Monday afternoon southeast of Sanford, ending a weeklong search, police said.

Kinnaird said if Shaniya was involved in a sex trafficking plot, she is among other victims in the state.

“Many of them are Asian women and children. Many of them are Hispanic women and children. But as we saw to our horror (possibly with Shaniya), they are now homegrown, and may have been all along,” she said.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, roughly 17,500 people are trafficked in the United States annually. Victims are forced into sex and slave labor.

Earlier this year, a Durham couple pleaded not guilty in an Egyptian court to charges that they tried to buy babies and forge birth certificates.

In 2007, investigators busted Durham and Raleigh brothels where they suspected women were kept as sex slaves. Detectives also raided a club that year with alleged ties to immigrant traffickers.

Paralegal Rachel Braver, with the statewide Task Force (RIPPLE) to address Human Trafficking, said the state's large immigrant population also plays a part in attracting human traffickers. She said it is difficult to know just how many victims are out there.

“Numbers are hard to come by because it's a very hidden crime,” she said.

State lawmakers approved a bill in 2007 making human trafficking a felony offense and offering state assistance to victims.

Polaris Project, one of the largest anti-trafficking organizations in the U.S., ranks the state among the top 10 for laws governing human trafficking.