By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times
WASHINGTON, DC, 8 August 2012 – I first met Keisha Head at a conference in San Antonio, TX where she and Stacy Lewis presented a segment on professional speaking and interviewing to survivors and advocates for survivors of sex trafficking. Keisha’s grace and posture were both inviting and powerful. A passionate advocate for survivors of sex trafficking, Keisha Head was awarded the Paul Howard Voices for Victims award by the Fulton County District Attorney’s office.
“I am not a survivor because I escaped something horrific,” Keisha stated, “I am a survivor because I allowed my pain and losses to transform me into God’s instrument of greatness.”
In April 2012, Keisha stood with other survivors to deliver closing remarks at the U.S. Department of Justice Trafficking in Persons Symposium in Salt Lake City, UT. Keisha’s experience with speaking includes working with such organizations as Juvenile Justice Fund, Polaris Project, the Boys and Girls Club, Job Corp, and the Law and Society Association, along with several colleges, churches, and grade schools across the country. Keisha’s experience with the media includes interviews with Fox News and CW 69 In Contact, along with many interviews with her local news. Keisha also served as an expert panelist for the United States Attorney’s Office Human Trafficking Summit, which was held at Georgia State University last year with over 400 participants.
Keisha did not always know she contained such a commanding quality for success and self-confidence, however.
“I was very angry, shy, and withdrawn [when I was young],” said Keisha, “I used to call myself unlovable [because] I felt like I was different from my peers.”
Born in Atlanta, GA, Keisha was raised in a troubled home where she suffered verbal and sexual abuse from an early age. Her mother suffered from schizophrenia and was unable to properly care for her.
“[I] never knew my father,” Keisha said, “My mother has no recollection of him due to her mental illness.”
Removed from her home by age 12, Keisha cycled through foster and group homes and often ran away to escape the instability. By age 16, Keisha was a single mother with a newborn baby for whom she was unable to care. Forced to give custody of her daughter to her boyfriend’s family, Keisha ran away from child protective services.
Without anywhere else to turn, Keisha says a childhood friend from church introduced her to someone who could help her.
“I did not have many friends,” Keisha said, “[But] I always trusted people and believed their intentions were good.”
That’s when Keisha met Charles Pipkins, a pimp known as “Sir Charles.”
“He said I was beautiful and [that] I did not have to be homeless,” Keisha said, “He knew of a way for me to make money.”
“When you have suffered from starvation and someone hands you bread,” Keisha continued, “You instantly bond with that person, that’s what happened to me.”
Keisha said she had no idea Pipkins was a pimp.
“To me, a pimp was someone who wore loud colored suits and talked in riddles with all the words rhyming,” Keisha said, “Th[at] was what I saw in movies, and boy was I wrong.”
Charles Pipkins was ultimately sentenced by a federal judge in 2002 to 40 years in prison for running a child sex trafficking ring.
After facing many challenges, Keisha turned her life around and regained custody of her daughter. Now a mother of three, Keisha says she advocates against sex trafficking not only to inform the community but to protect her own children as well.
“When I look at my sixteen year old daughter, I see the child I could have been if domestic sex trafficking had not derailed my life,” Keisha said, “It is a joy to see her surpass my accomplishments, and I marvel at her passion for life.”
Keisha’s story was featured in a Public Broadcasting Atlanta (PBA) documentary titled “How to Stop the Candy Shop,” which focused on child sex trafficking and those working to stop it. This documentary recently won the Southeast Regional Emmy Award under the “Television News Gathering Excellence: News Special” category.
For those still trying to overcome their circumstances, Keisha had the following words of encouragement:
“It took me a very long time to build up enough self-esteem and courage to leave the sex trade. For so long I thought that I was worthless and invaluable. But now, when I look at my family and the community that I serve, I understand how valuable my voice is in the lives of others. I feel fulfilled because my life has purpose. If you have fallen victim to sex trafficking, please know that there are people who genuinely care about you and want to see your life flourish. One of those people is me.”
Keisha’s goal is to start the first survivor-led organization in Georgia that will assist victims of domestic sex trafficking and help them emerge as thriving survivors. If you would like to contact Keisha to speak at an upcoming event, please email her at KeishaHead@ymail.com.
In follow up to a recent article outlining advice for new survivor speakers, I would like to list here ten tips for survivor speakers from Keisha Head. Thank you, Keisha, for all that you do!
Pray. Your spiritual health is vital.
Dress for success. You represent countless victims. Show the world our potential to succeed!
Speak clearly and boldly. The world needs to hear and remember your voice!
Be prepared. Make sure you know statistics related to your state. Accuracy is important when trying to raise awareness.
Be honest. If you don’t want to share information, don’t. Untruths catch up with you. It is YOUR experience, own it.
Stand your ground. The media will try to make you answer tough questions. If you do not want to, don’t! It is ok to say No.
Have a plan. Know what you want out of the interview and what messages you want to send out.
Be a survivor, not a victim. Always paint a picture of success so that the world knows there is hope worth fighting for.
Always ask, “What will be the title of the article?” And request the reporter NOT use titles like “Teen Hooker” or “Child Prostitute.” These titles do not portray a victim.
Smile! You are a survivor. Be Proud.