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By Heather Braden
my story as a teen runaway, becoming a model & the target of powerful industry predators.

  • Writer's pictureHeath Brads

Updated: Jan 21, 2022

Just as 8th grade finished, there was a rumor going around that a NYC modeling agent was having open calls at the local Hilton hotel. It was the tallest building in my small town and it was a big deal. I had already done a hair show at age 13 after my hair stylist asked if I could be in it for the salon. It was on the mian stage at the same HIlton. I had read about modeling from the fashion magazines and knew vaguely that models would go to. NYC, then Paris. I had a dream all my life to go to Paris and to travel.

I had already tried marijuana with neighborhood kids, and had wine coolers a few times. After all we lived in a college town. A local photographer had offered me a free photo shoot at his studio, given me austi spumanti and asked to take off my clothing. It was just myself and this 40+ year old man. Eventually he convinced me to wear this vintage bra for the photos.

painting brushes

What I didn't know as this was only the beginning of what was to be normal for me for the next 10 years.

hen I look back I realize all of society prepared me for this position.

My mother left my father for a variety of typical reasons and I was essencially free range raised. Although independent I was often alone. At 8 years old I saw the penis of a man in a car who used to drive around me and my girls at the school bus stop in the afternoons. Another one of of the local cars we saw one day stopped and asked directions. While I was leaning on the passenger window frame, he grabbed me and pulled me halfway into the car. No one told or taught me to fight back, no one warned be about child kidnapping. But somehow inside I decided to fight him. Kicking ans screaminbg while my friend grabbed my leggs and pulled back he didnt let go. After a minute or 2 a car came up the road towards where we were stopped at the 4 way stop sign and he let go and tore off. My family had a hard time believeing me and my friend, and I dont remmeber any police reports. But the neighboorhood gang of kids and I spent weeks on banana seat bikes searching the neighborhood for the light blue/light biege VW bug that man drove. It took me 40 years to say he tried to kidnap me. It took me so long because no one ever took me seriously or most women. The victims. Somehow we are always asking for it.

As a 14 year old runaway model and with conventionally marketable bone structure and height I was always the vixen, the jezebel, temptress, home wrecker, arm candy, or trophy girl....and so it began.

Taking the bus to NYC

...there was a special that spring on Greyhound to any destination in the USA for $60. I had modeled for local stores during my 14 & 15th year and made enough to buy a one way ticket...

I only told one person where and when I was going. Jake, my gay BFF was the only person I told where I was going. He sent me off at the Greyhound bus stop. I looked out the rainy window as we pulled away to see him crying, Jake was a runaway goth kid from a nearby pig farm and was far to fashionable for the place he came from. He packed me a bag with a carepackage, vintage clothes and new Via Spiga Patent leather pumps, size 10. I lived in those pumps, trying to look like the girls in the magazines.

Trying to look like a real model.

The bus ride

The ride to NYC was 5 nights, 6 days and it was now November. I didn't own a coat, or a portfolio, or a bank account. I had $20 in my pocket, The bus went East towards Salt Lake City, then I-70 to Denver over the rockies, past my birth town where the Lowry air force base had once been in Aurora Colorado, and east into Kansas. It was cold and snowy with a variety of storms. The bus was full most of the time. Mostly male Mexican migrant workers, a few criminals and active addicts, a few retirees, and an occasional granny type. I was invited to sit with a group of men in the back, who fed me and gave me various offers of various drugs, and alcohol. They were weird and creepy and latched onto me, trying to get me to go with them to various cities. I told everyone I met I was 15 and headed to NYC to become a model. No one seemed to think this was abnormal in any way. At least non of these men questioned it.

Arabs on the bus

“ the Arab offered me $100 to help me take care of myself, I was sure he was trying to buy me and I was offended it was only $100

Mohamed was with a friend traveling in the second row of the bus. He got in when I was throwing up in the back so I don't know when he got on. The bus driver pulled over on the side of the highway so everyone could get out and get air while I cleaned up the bus. Then I was forced to sit up front, accross the isle from Mohamad and his friend. We spent over 24 hours on the bus together. He kept trying to talk to me after buying me some milk and a candy bar in a vending machine at a rest stop because he hadnt seen me eating. Truth be told I had no more money to eat on the trip. He had noticed and bought it for me, It was snowing when he walked up and offered to buy me something somewhere on a pull out in Kansas. Looking back I relaize the look on his face when I told him I was traveling alone to NYC to be a model at age 15 was shock but I thought he was perving out on me and most grown men did.

As we continued on the trip he shared he had finally saved enough monety to bring his wife and children, 2 girls to America after being separated working for 5 years saving. He was headed to Chicago where he would meet them finally. I thought he was lying. I half heartedly listened while he kept tryng to chat with me with his thick accent. Little did I know I was 1/3 middle eastern myself. When he tried to offer me $100 to help me, I was SURE he was trying to buy me. I was so offended. I was so rude to him.

I accused him of all sorts of vulgar thoughts, turned and went to sleep against the icelike window never speaking to him again. The next morning when I woke we were parked in the Chicago Greyhound station and the bus was emptying. I was sent off for the manditory 1 hour break.

I went to find a bathroom to freshen up in and saw accross the grand main room Mohamed hugging his little girls and his wife from afar and watched them tear with joy. In the bathroom I reached in my pocket of my vintage wool mens oversized sweater and pulled out the left overs of the Snickers candy bar for breakfast I had saved, and found a $100 bill in my pocket. A gift from Mohamad. Proof good men existed.

Port Authority Bus Station, Manhattan, NYC. November, 1987

I stepped off the bus into Port Authority at noon on a Wednesday wearing patent leather pumps,

a mini skirt, vintage oversized sweater and a black turtleneck, with $27.50 left and a business card of Paris/USA models, with the name Doug Ash on it, and a Card from Ford Models with Eilenes name on it.

Eilene Ford and I had spoken by phone a few times and she said Jean Luc Brunel offered me a contract in Paris with his agency Karen models and that I would come to NYC for a month or 2 while we ordered my passport and then go to Paris. All expenses paid by Jean Luc. I looked at the tattered cards and called Doug to let him know I made it. Doug said to come right over. The office was on Park avenue, and so I was able to find a taxi with my last money. The office was near the Pan Am building and I remember staring straight up amazed at all the tall buildings.

When I met Doug he introduced me to a woman, the agency owner, Louise. She was in her 40s I imagin.

I told them the story of how I got there and the arab. Doug brought me to his place a few blocks north of Columbus circle to live with a couple other teen models. One was named Paula Abbott, she was 15 and on the cover of Cosmopolitan. "wow, I had really made it"

She was staying in Dougs room down the hall. I remember being kept apart from her, away at a distance. Doug said she needed space and was becoming a top model. I remember looking at her in Awe. She was stunning and blond with a full lower lip. She looked like Barbi. I had never seen anyone as beuatiful as her in person, and never met a real cover girl. I also remember her sobbing and crying daily from accross the apartment. I was put in the other room with a wild clubbing 15 year old model named Lara.

Lara took me to all the clubs that Doug helped arrange. The China club.

  • Writer's pictureHeath Brads

Updated: Jan 21, 2022

Now I realize I didn't exactly have a money making look at the time. I had the french look or a Euro look.

I didn't have a portfolio or a coat. Doug loaned me giant oversized full length wool mens coat.

I walked miles and miles daily for auditions and casting to strange mens private apartments and lofts in seedy areas, up crooked old tenement buildings covered in spray paint. Shivering in the cold blasting wind alone I was homesick and alone. No one was interested in me. Not clients, not my agency.

Just men everywhere I went. I started socially smoking, light drinking and clubbing nightly with Lara.

Luckily I was cautious, always the lightweight and I consumed very little. While those around me drank heavily, snorted cocaine, and shot heroin. With the extreme amount of drugs and booze being handed to me every day and everywhere I went I even had to pretend at times to be too wasted for more as I turned down offerings, or pretended to take some as not to appear too good for the crowd.

woman holding a book, next to a coffee mug

NYC was gritty still. Peepshows all around Times Sq, hookers fighting over crack pipes, purse thieves,

and dirty old men everywhere I went 2x and 3x my age. Every day I was sent on go-sees to meet clients, auditions, and castings for modeling jobs as well as many photographers, all men. Sometimes I would see 8-12 appointments in a day walking miles and miles along the Manhattan streets.

Model Life

“Every street I walked I scanned it for men and potential harassers. Every casting, go see and audition carried risk, every unvetted person called my agency could be a model fucker”

As a model in the streets of Manhattan all day, attending meetings with men the agency often had never even met I was at risk and I knew it. I had already heard the stories. The wispers, the gossip, the warnings. I had been told by a close model friend of her model contract with Karens Paris, with model agent Jean Luc Brunel, head of Karens Paris.

Jean Luc Brunel #jeanlucbrunel

When my freind left Oregon and headed to Paris on a contract with Karen models I admit I was a bit jelous but mostly I was thrilled for her. What surprised me most is when she promtly returned home to Oregon after 3 weeks. She was different. Changed. She was 16. Finally the day before I left for NYC, with my own offer from Karens Models she confided in me her story in Paris and a warning about Jean Luc Brunel. She told me how he had drugged and raped her. A story I would hear over and over for the next few decades. (#Jeanlucbrunel #karensparis #modeling) She explained through tears how she found herself in a nightclub unable to speak, walk or see straight with her agent at Le Bain Douches, the legendary nightclub in Paris. Then she shared how she woke up tired to his bed posts, naked with womens scarves. How he kicked her out of the agency as she left his apartment after his failed attempt to gas light her as to what had happened. #metoo #maxwell #Epstein #Princeandrew

The Model Fuckers #Modelfucker #Modelfuckers

“Little did I know Jean Luc Brunel would haunt me.”

When I heard the first story about Jean Luc Brunel I was 13 and this was 30+ years ago. What I didn't know was that Jean Luc Brunel would haunt me for the next 30+ years everywhere I went. There was the constant stream of stories among models about the"model fuckers" #Modelfuckers and the men and women who enabled or "introduced" them to models. #Modelfucker was how we all refered to them. It was a very well known, commonly used loose term which covered just about every male we met. From those just enamoured by models, those who wanted to marry one as a trophy wife, the ones looking for side chicks or arm candy, to the model agents, and the rapists we wispered about. There were powerful ultra wealthy ones, #Epstein#Weinstein to the starving but cool artists and musiciaones. The gallery owners, club owners, photographers, club promoters, doctors, lawyers, diplomats, royalty, celebrities etc. Perceived beauty was in high demand among men of all walks of life but with the title of "Model" it was a golden ticket and a curse.

My first year

I made it my first trip to NYC for 3 months. It was brutal. Between the freezing winter, loneliness, and constant verbal and groping assault by males in my orbit daily I just couldn't hack it. You see I had been sheltered and protected although I was a teen runaway and 9th grade drop out I had intelligently surrounded myself by, and raised by amazing gay men and women #gay#LGBTQ#Lesbian and now I was in a very different world of men and women.

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