Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Shavontana “Starr” Davis who was a 2021 L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth Awardee. Each year L’Oréal Paris and Points of Light recognize and celebrate Women of Worth who make a beautiful difference in their communities. Ten honorees each receive a $20,000 grant to support their most cherished cause, and an online vote determines one honoree who will receive an additional $25,000 grant. Nominations for 2022 are now open! If you know a woman who works to create lasting and significant change in her community, nominate her to be one of the 2022 Women of Worth.
Shavontana “Starr” Davis is a criminal defense attorney who has earned many professional accolades and built a fulfilling personal life with her husband and two children. But it was just three decades ago that this shining leader was sexually abused at the hands of family members, leaving her feeling paralyzed, confused and ashamed.
“As a survivor of child sexual abuse, I don’t want another child to have to experience what I did,” says Starr. “As a child, I only confided in my best friend, also a child, about the abuse. I made her promise to keep my secret and she did, but some secrets aren’t meant to be kept. I made a vow to her at the time I told her that when I got older, I’d help girls like me.”
Starr remained silent about her pain for nearly two decades, but the 38-year-old Broward County, Florida resident is now shining a light on child sexual abuse and exploitation, as the founder and executive director of The Starr Institute, Inc. The organization is committed to educating, engaging and empowering youth and the community about child sexual abuse and exploitation, making good on the childhood promise Starr says she made long ago to shield children from trauma.
“I am doing this work so young people can avoid, not simply recover from, sexual abuse. You have to remember these are teens. Some days, they could care less about what you’re saying, that’s just the way it goes, but they expect for me to be there even if they don’t feel like being there. They know I’m going to show up as my authentic self. They look forward to that and I look forward to seeing them. I learn just as much from them as hopefully they’re learning from me.”
Connecting with kids aged 12-17 across the United States, The Starr Institute offers creative, culturally-relevant and age-appropriate workshops and programming including sex trafficking awareness & safety 101, internet safety, goal setting and self-esteem. Serving with the belief that every child deserves a life free from harm, particularly the harm that comes from sexual abuse, Starr works with vulnerable children who have been abused or faced trauma and also those who have not. Dedicated to showing up every day for these children, Starr is modeling the behavior exhibited by her beloved grandmother who she credits with helping her to survive her childhood trauma and forming the adult she is today.
“I’m being to kids what my grandma was to me. Being a safe space before I even knew that was a real thing, which helps with resiliency for children who have experienced trauma. She was my person. She loved me, cared for me, supported me, believed in me, held me accountable and she always showed up. She was at every graduation, high school, college, law school, she was there for my marriage, the birth of my children…She was always encouraging me.”
Through speaking engagements, her published book, The Abuse Algorithm and more, Starr is raising awareness about child sexual abuse and exploitation in communities that are often uneducated about the topics. According to Starr, people will often wrongly assume child sex trafficking is an “international issue,” meanwhile, according to UNICEF USA, it’s happening in every state in the U.S. Since 2017, more than 2,400 youth and adults have participated in The Starr Institute’s awareness and prevention programming, another 600 people across 32 states and three countries have raised funds to support The Starr Institute’s efforts through an annual 5K run, and The Starr Institute has partnered with organizations including Georgia Center for Child Advocacy (GCCA),The Center for Civic Innovation, and the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition to better support their work.
It’s Starr’s dynamic energy that is making the difference in the lives of children, says Giselle Balfour, project director for GCCA’s Envision Project, who has worked with Starr to provide programming for child sex trafficking survivors.
“Being a survivor herself, there is a connection, but even without telling her story, she has a positive life and energy that youth really connect with. Young people can sense when someone is being fake. They see the genuine spirit and passion for what she does and they really connect with that. They’re always so excited when they’re on a call with her because she’s always there to listen to them and also provide encouragement so they can keep going. The fact that she’s been through [abuse] herself shows that it’s possible to keep going.”
Starr, who says her service is guided by the well-known quote, “Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth,” calls her volunteerism her purpose. As she works each day to make the world a safer place for children, Starr encourages others to help someone else in need.
“Because you’re blessed to be a blessing. That’s either with your time, talents or treasures. None of us are able to be as successful as we are without the help of other people somewhere along our journey. It’s always incumbent upon us to be able to reach out and help the next person, because no organization runs off the strength of one person, it takes all of us. We have to connect up with one another and just help each other. That’s what makes the world better anyway, we thrive off of being in fellowship with one another.”
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Shavontana “Starr” Davis? Find local volunteer opportunities.