Stopping Traffic (Human Trafficking) With Those Shoes
“Hey, I put some new shoes on,
And suddenly everything is right,
I said, hey, I put some new shoes on, and everybody’s smiling.”
Paolo Nutini’s lyrics sum up just what it’s like to strap on a new pair of shoes. Despite his Y chromosome, Nutini nails the feeling of confidence that seems to well up from new kicks. For women, though, the right shoes not only ignite feelings of confidence, but also a sense of simply “feeling pretty.”
Ateba Crocker, shoe lover and founder of the women’s online boutique Shoe Revolt, knows all too well how girls want to feel confident and beautiful in the clothes and shoes they wear. Her abusive father, however, robbed her of that feeling at an early age.
“My mother bought me this dress,” Crocker reminisces. “When I did a spin, it made this hoop thing – like in ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ He said that I looked like a prostitute. At that moment, I remember my heart just shattering because I thought I looked really pretty.”
Just like that twirling dress, Crocker’s life soon spun out of control, and her father’s words would eventually ring true. After becoming pregnant as a teenager, she joined an escorting agency to support her son Maleek.
“My body was already broken as a little girl, but it got worse,” she explains. Feeling broken both on the outside and inside, it took a few words from her young son to spark a trip to a local church. While riding in the car one day, Maleek said, “Mommy, mommy, I want to be a meacher.” By “meacher,” Maleek meant “preacher.” Crocker questioned how Maleek could possibly do this if she was a prostitute.
At a church service soon afterwards, she heard the story of Lazarus, a man Jesus raised from the dead. “That was my life,” she says. “I was dead emotionally. I was dead on the inside. My heart was hardened. I wanted to become alive.”
And she did. Crocker decided to follow Christ that day, and he took her on a journey out of a world of prostitution, bondage and addiction.
“I can’t begin to tell you how hard it is to work through addictions, your childhood abuse, your pain, to go through all that counseling, and then to go to school to get your degree so you can become someone in society,” she says. “It was because of God and because of my tenacity and that I didn’t give up.”
After receiving her master’s degree, working for the Nike Corporation, establishing a family of her own and teaching at a university, Crocker decided it was time to step out and help other girls and women who have fallen victim to sexual abuse, human trafficking and prostitution. She now assumes the full-time role of heading up Shoe Revolt
Crocker explains how she channeled her anger at the commercial sex industry by starting this revolt: “I love shoes, and I figured other women love shoes. I wanted to ignite that energy and that power and get women fired up and feisty.” She adds, “God loves us, and he values us so much. Men and women are exploiting girls, and it makes me mad, and I want other women to get mad and fight with me.”
And what a fun way to fight – by buying a pair of shoes! Phase Two of the revolt will launch Aug. 1, when the boutique will open its online store. For now, Shoe Revolt is seeking donations for used shoes in excellent condition or new shoes that people or corporations are willing to donate. The goal is to have 5,000 shoes by July, but Shoe Revolt’s ultimate goal is to create a multi-billion dollar industry to kick human trafficking to the curb.
Since the commercial sex business is also a multi-billion dollar industry, Crocker says the best way to fight these exploiters is with money. “We have to have something to establish us financially so that we can compete with them.”
Shoe Revolt’s profits will be donated to Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS), as well as other organizations seeking to provide assistance and transitional housing for girls victimized by trafficking and prostitution. Shoe Revolt will also help create scholarships for victims.
“Victim” is a word that means a lot to Crocker. “We are not criminals; we’re victims,” she asserts. Shoe Revolt will also work to reestablish society’s view of prostitution. “For many girls, freedom is being taken away from them. I want them to know that it’s not their fault. I want society to know it’s not the girls’ fault.”
Crocker wants to encourage girls to find life on the other side of prostitution. “I know there are girls out there who are being enslaved into this lifestyle. It’s not impossible for them to come back. They have an opportunity to really change their life.”
Shoe lovers, or “shoeistas,” as Crocker likes to call them, have the opportunity to help change lives by simply donating a pair of boots, heels, wedges, flats or sandals – or making a purchase when the store opens in August.
As Crocker works to assemble the shoeistas, she knows there’s a big fight ahead.
According to UNICEF, as many as two million children could be sexually exploited each year. The Polaris Project sites this number at one million and also reports that an estimated 244,000 children in the United States are at risk for sexual exploitation. To add to the problem, many of the children who come out of sexual trafficking and slavery have no long-term treatment options. A recent article in The Los Angeles Times reported findings of a study by the Department of Health and Human Services; only four rehabilitation centers exist in the United States for children exploited through prostitution.
Statistics like these are driving Crocker to fight and to encourage others to do the same.
Nutini’s lyrics now take on a much deeper meaning: “Hey, I put some new shoes on, and suddenly everything is right.” The fight against human trafficking and sexual exploitation of girls may not end suddenly, but women around the globe can help make things right – one pair of shoes at a time.
For more information on how you can donate shoes, visit www.shoerevolt.com.
You can also join Shoe Revolt’s Facebook fan page and follow Ateba Crocker on Twitter @ShoeRevolt.