A 19 year-old Dream Teen in less than dreamy places
By Brooke Hartman
Jeff and I had only been in Las Vegas for a week when we were invited on a ride-along to brothels in outlying Nevada counties. It was on this trip that we met Kristin. Tall and blond, warm and friendly, it did not surprise us one bit when she turned out to be Miss Teen Universal’s Dream Teen. It did surprise is when she told us her age: 19.
Through conversations on the trip, her social interactions and obvious maturity, we’d definitely pegged her at 26. Maybe 24. What in the world was this 19 year-old Dream Teen doing in Nye County, Nevada carrying boxes of cupcakes into brothels and assisting prostitutes with their hair and lashes?
“Well, I have a story,” she said. I couldn’t imagine a story that would lead to the volunteer equivalent of, like, bungee jumping or cliff diving. This wasn’t your average build-my-resume-and-do-good-in-the-world volunteering. This was all feet-washing-and-toenail-painting-sex-workers-in-their-sex-working places volunteering. And she appeared to be so squeaky clean and, you know, Dream-Teeny.
“I almost got trafficked and sold into prostitution when I was 14,” she said. The car may as well have slammed into a wall for how fast my head whipped around to make sure I heard that right. “Yeah,” she said, smiling. “This could have been me,” she said, “at best.”
She had been an avid gamer, playing Xbox Live for years with a gaming clan called The Gamer Girls. The team was made up of 10 girls and 10 guys from all over the world, including her older brother. They played together online, and she was thrilled that she could earn Microsoft points and buy things by winning. She was also thrilled when, of the 20 people on her team, she was selected to play at the Major League Gaming Championships in Dallas that year with the team leader. It was invitation only, and they’d be playing for actual money. The team leader was a 25 year-old guy she’d been playing with for over two years, since she had been invited to join his clan when she was 12.
At 14, she knew her parents would never let her fly to Dallas alone, so she formulated a plan. She emptied her bank account, took cash to the airport, bought her own plane tickets and told her family she planned to go to Florida with a friend.
“My parents trusted me,” she said. But right as she was about to take off, she received a phone call from her brother, who had discovered her plan and knew where she was headed. Kristin refused to deplane even as her brother told her how stupid it was. Instead, she turned off the phone.
The minute she landed in Dallas, police officers and a SWAT team boarded the plane in search of Kristen, whose parents had alerted the police while she was in the air. There was a bunch of confusion about whether or not she was running away and why. Then, someone on the force who knew about the Major League Gaming Championships made things even more confusing. “The Games were last week,” he said.
She was taken to the Police Station and asked to identify the man who was picking her up. When she went to the guy’s webpage, the entire room flipped out, she explained. They started making phone calls and documenting his texts and phone numbers, taking her things into custody.
“This guy was going to sell you into prostitution across the border in Mexico,” they told her. “He is wanted because he’s done this before.”
She didn’t believe it was true at first, because she’d known the guy for two years and trusted him, but a month later he was arrested. She admits that, although clever enough to book a plane ticket and fly to Dallas at 14, she didn’t have the maturity to understand what it all meant until the movie Taken came out the following month. That’s when she understood how close she’d come to sex slavery.
After the police questioned her that night, she sat in juvenile detention for 38 hours, waiting for her parents to pick her up. “That was the first time I heard God’s voice,” she said. “He told me, I’m going to use this for the good of my Kingdom. I had no idea at the time what God could possibly use this for.”
A few years after returning home, however, a girl approached Kristen at church. “I heard your testimony,” the girl said, “and I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Cupcake Girls, but they go to the strip clubs and brothels. They don’t evangelize or anything, but they love on and pamper the women.”
Kristen went to the next orientation. “I had a peace about it,” she said, “and I knew this was right where God wanted me.”
At 17, she couldn’t go into strip clubs. But she could go to the brothels, so that’s what she did. Kristen’s been doing it for about a year. Whenever she went into brothels, she said, she always got: Oh look! It’s Miss America. Miss America over here just thinks I’m a charity case.
“But I tell them I’m here because I love them and everyone needs a little support and cupcakes, right?”
Right, I affirmed, as we drove from brothel to brothel that day.
“They don’t think we have anything in common, but I tell them my story and share that my entire motive was money. We’re all motivated and lured by the same things: money and fame. And this could have been me. If my brother hadn’t told my parents, it would be me.”
But instead, she was intercepted. She could have easily taken her newly recognized freedom and gotten as far from the industry as possible. What did she do? She turned around and dove head first back into it, using her time and energy now, at 19, to serve the women she empathizes with—showing me again that age is no indicator of how or when God can use us.