Four former contestants in the Donald Trump–owned Miss Teen USA pageant told BuzzFeed that Trump walked in on them while they were changing during the 1997 competition. The dressing room was full of contestants—51 in all—between the ages of 15 and 19.
“When he started running for president, that is one of the first things I thought about: Oh, gross, this guy walked in on us in the pageant,” one former Miss Teen USA participant, who asked for anonymity, said. She recalled half-dressed teenage contestants “scrambling to grab … whatever garments they had” when they realized that Trump had barged into the room.
Mariah Billado, who held the title of Miss Vermont Teen USA at the time, recalled Trump saying something along the lines of “Don’t worry, ladies, I’ve seen it all before.” “I remember putting on my dress really quick because I was like, ‘Oh my god, there’s a man in here,’ ” she told BuzzFeed. One of the other anonymous women said that Trump’s behavior seemed strange to the teens at the time, but now that she’s an adult, she realizes that it was “absolutely inappropriate.” “At the time, you’re a teenager, you’re intimidated—it’s Donald Trump, he runs the pageant,” she said. It seemed like Trump felt “it was his given right” to peek on the girls changing because he was the pageant’s owner.
Eleven other contestants told BuzzFeed that they didn’t remember Trump entering the changing room; some doubted that he could have done so with so many chaperones around. “If anything inappropriate had gone on, the gossip would have flown,” one said. Another accused the other contestants of lying about Trump “because they are [probably] voting for Hillary Clinton.”
The four former contestants who remember Trump watching them change reportedly found one another in a private Facebook group, where Miss Teen USA alumni began discussing their memories of Trump after a former Miss USA participant reported that Trump had walked in on the adult contestants of that pageant while they were changing. In May, former Miss New Hampshire USA Bridget Sullivan (née Vezina) told BuzzFeed that Trump had barged into the contestants’ dressing room while “we were all naked.” At the time, the Trump campaign said Sullivan’s story and those of other pageant participants quoted in the piece were “totally false.”
Trump himself has bragged about exploiting his power as the then-owner of the pageants to force naked or half-dressed contestants to let him stare at them. He told Howard Stern in 2005 that he pretended to be checking on the progress of the show:
Well, I’ll tell you the funniest is that before a show: I’ll go backstage, and everyone’s getting dressed, and everything else, and you know, no men are anywhere, and I’m allowed to go in because I'm the owner of the pageant and therefore I’m inspecting it. You know, I’m inspecting because I want to make sure that everything is good. You know, the dresses. “Is everyone OK?” You know, they’re standing there with no clothes. “Is everybody OK?” And you see these incredible-looking women, and so, I sort of get away with things like that.
On Tuesday, former Miss Arizona USA Tasha Dixon told a Los Angeles CBS affiliate that Trump did the same thing at the 2001 pageant, when she was 18. Dixon said the first time the contestants met Trump was while they were changing into their bikinis in the dressing room during a dress rehearsal. “He just came strolling right in. There was no second to put a robe on or any sort of clothing or anything. Some girls were topless. Other girls were naked,” she said. Dixon continued:
To have the owner come waltzing in when we’re naked or half-naked in a very physically vulnerable position, and then to have the pressure of the people that worked for him telling us to go fawn all over him, go walk up to him, talk to him, get his attention. … Who do you complain to? He owns the pageant. So there’s no one to complain to—everyone there works for him.
Dixon suspects that Trump “owned the pageant for the reason to utilize his power to get around beautiful women.” The year Dixon participated, the CBS affiliate reports, the Miss USA pageant theme was “empowering women.”