12 July 2010

Ateba Crocker - email interview

By now most of us realize how common sexual exploitation is in America. But what most of us don't realize is how hard it is to cope once its over.

This weekend I had a chance to correspond with Ateba Crocker, founder of Shoe Revolt. In an email interview she shared parts of her life that make it clear why she's in the position she is today. She's educated and well connected. But the important part of Ateba's story, she thinks, is what almost stopped her from telling it. Below is Ateba Crocker's interview with The Un-Protection blog.

I heard somewhere you said, as a young mother, to support your family you signed up for a job in an escort service. Later you found out it was a prostitution ring, but what made you stick around?
Yes - I was desperate. I didn't think I was a prostitute, prostitutes stood out on street corners I was a high class somebody (how silly, I know). But it made me feel important until I realized what it was really about and what was expected of me. Everything changed — I felt dirty and worth nothing but just a piece of meat. I didn't care about myself enough to stop- I stuck around because I was numb and didn't really know how to do anything different.
All I knew is that I needed to take care of my son - but found out - that what my son really needed was a mom. A mom that was alive on the inside and able to feel and love herself and then in turn love him. The best thing I did was to quit - to walk away and to love myself that much to say no more to exploiting myself for a dollar. My father's words no longer had hold of me - I wasn't defined by his abusive words nor his negative actions. I could define myself in a new way by making right decisions and turning away from situations that harmed me rather than truly helping me and my son in the long-term.
You grew up in an abusive home. You've said in interviews that your father abused you starting at the age of 10. With that said, you seem to have a strong understanding of whats needed in the area of rehabilitating young girls victimized by the sex trade. How did you rehabilitate? At what age or point did you start to see a turn around in the healing process?
Yes, I do it takes many years of healing consisting of counseling (group and one on one), addiction 12 step program, a college degree, an opportunity (someone thought enough of me to hire me at Pepsi and then Nike and then ODU) and learning how to love every part of myself. Seeing myself as valuable. My favorite scripture is where God says that "you're the apple of my eye". I love that scripture because to me it says if I am the apple of God's eye the creator of all. Then I'm not a mistake and I'm here for a reason. I would say my turn around was when I got my first degree it was an associates degree. I was so proud because I thought I wasn't smart enough to achieve anything great like a degree. My father went as far as the 5th grade and my mom never finished college (she is back now and hoping to graduate soon).
When I hear society talk about the word prostitute, there is usually a terrible stigma attached to it. What was your view of a prostitute before that experience, and then after ( or now)? (do you rationalize it; is it bad, good etc...)
It is bad - it exploits women and children. It's a form of slavery (from a runaway being exploited by a pimp, someone being kidnapped and forced to fulfill horrible acts, to family members exploiting young children, to a women exploiting herself (like I did). You can't rationalize it. As a society we have to educate ourselves first about how it can happen, second,
how we can stop it, and third, how do we help the victims being rescued from it.
With the girls you plan to help and impact, what sort of role will you play in their personal lives?
Oh - how I hope - that my reach goes beyond just giving shelters dollars to actually meeting the girls, hugging, loving on them and encouraging them to continue the journey. I understand that just because I give money doesn't mean I have a right to come into the shelters and take over. It's up to them to invite me - that is not the prerequisite to getting help. I hope they will but we will see. Understandably shelter have to follow strict confidentially rules and respect the rights and privacy of every child they work with and I will do the same. Hopefully, I can get a couple of meets and hugs one day - we'll see.
I'm focused and I know my mission. I'm not trying to recreate the wheel I'm just trying to sustain it by never ever seeing one shelter close due to lack of finances.
How did you end up in the retail industry, and then Old Dominion? Why did you walk away?
I was hired at Nike and thrived. My husband moved to Virginia and I got a job at ODU. Why did I walk away from ODU after 5 years of service (voted best faculty adviser, was chief departmental advisor, led several field studies to China, led several student research projects for major companies, small local businesses and etc.)? I made a choice to continue to talk about my past and see the consequences of it all. I chose to continue to share my story. All I knew at that time is that I had a story to tell that others needed to hear to encourage their journey - from prostitution to professor. I saw surprisingly firsthand that there was a negative view from that title - to me it was a Rocky story - to another it was "You're an embarrassment to the college because you are talking about the sex industry". I had reserved a room and was going to host an open forum... it was canceled. I was not allowed to host nor talk on campus about my experience as an escort. It was suggested to reach out to community groups instead and keep the sex talk private. This statement I will never ever forget and feeds the very energy and drive to see Shoe Revolt become a big success and make a lasting impact on many survivors. My goal is to help others coming out of the sex industry so that they too can one day become a doctor, professor, lawyer (it can happen), or whatever society says they can’t be because they were a prostitute or sex slave. To create more wonderful testimonies and more shocking ROCKY STORIES of fighters beating the odds.
So what's behind the shoes? You could've chosen to raise funds with anything, why ladies shoes? By the way, I want to support do you take sneakers? (not mine, of course)
Women love shoes - I wanted to find a way to get women connected to the cause - so I thought why not shoes. They can donate or buy. Also my background with Nike - my company will also design shoes with other shoe companies. The designs inspiration will come from survivor stories. We also have a vegan shoe and boot set to launch October or November. I'm very excited about both and future designs to come.

We do not take sneakers but when we get some in the mail I forward to a great org called So We Run. If you like I can get you connected to them.

What do you see in the future for domestic child trafficking?
Future - A global movement and partnerships of all agencies fighting this fight to lock arms and stop fighting over resources (dollars or celeb endorsements or donors), but to share resources, share and work together - for real–for real.
If we can do this then modern day slavery will end. If we don't, it will get worst. The responsibility of the success lies on every founder's or executive director's shoulders. I have hope. I believe that it will happen. It just takes every organization really taking a good look at themselves.
Oh to answer your question. My hope: end it, eradicate it, gone for good
Do you see one area that needs focus and change the most? I know for some, the demand of women and girls is the hot topic. And for some its, poverty and a collapse in a solid social structure; or is there more work to be done on the back end?
The way society views the prostitute as a criminal instead of trying to get to know her- the victim. Trying to learn what led her to this point and why she finds or allows herself to live in such a way. I ask society, 'the next time you judge look deep into her eyes, deep past the blankness, into the depths of her pain and allow yourself to feel it. If you do that- if you take that moment you will understand'.
With the past you were subjected to as a child, I ask myself, "how could she make it". But you're now on a platform that can help change a lot of lives. You're already doing a lot of good and leaving a legacy. What drives you to ask for the best that life has to offer? Did you ever see yourself in this position?
I don't see myself as a platform. Honestly after that experience at ODU I never ever wanted to share my story again. I thought it was bad, I was bad and stupid for making the decision to become an escort. I really had to go through a time of reflection and heeling. It was like that person had so much power to send me to that place again that I worked so hard to fight and change into a better person. I worked hard to change my life – to really make right decisions, and in one moment it was almost taken. I never ever want another girl to go through that. Who knows, that girl may not have the strength to not return to the streets. So I have to set the way. I have to think nothing of my reputation to help build the girls coming after me in the long run.
It may cost me everything, and it has, but I have to do it. My work is more than just selling shoes it's a mission bigger than myself. To change society's view of the prostitute. To see her as human and redeemable and clean not dirty and less than.
Lastly, who are your mentors? Whats the foundation of your belief system? And if a young girl read this email interview, what would you want her to walk away with?
My mentors have been strong women like Carolyn Long, Sandra Christmas, Pastor Marian Peterson and Pastor Janeen McBath. My foundation is my relationship with God and who he defines me to be (the apple of His eye here for a special task).
Not to be like me nor make a decision to become a stripper, escort or whatever. To love herself more and to advocate on behalf of those that are forced to see every little girl and women free from sex slavery.
Shoe Revolt is an online shoe boutique that raises awareness, inspires, and empowers women to donate high-end shoes to eradicate human trafficking in the United States with every donated shoe sold. Celebrities including Sarah Jessica Parker, Emily West and Zöe Bell have donated shoes from their collections, as have executives, lawyers, politicians and stay-at-home moms.