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April 20, 2014

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Miss Nevada discusses the sexual assault that has shaped her future

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Tom Donoghue/www.donoghuephotography.com

2010 Miss Nevada Christina Keegan.

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See all of the Sun's 2010 Miss America Pageant coverage.

2010 Miss Nevada Christina Keegan

Contestants of the 2010 Miss America Pageant compete in the first evening of preliminary competition at Planet Hollywood on Jan. 26, 2010. Launch slideshow »
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2010 Miss America Pageant contestants Miss Massachusetts Amanda Kelly and Miss Kentucky Mallory Ervin dine at Pink's Hot Dogs in Planet Hollywood.

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Miss America Pageant winners gather for lunch at Neiman Marcus on Jan. 28, 2010.

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Miss America's Outstanding Teen 2010 Jeanette Morelan, front far left, joins Miss America Pageant winners for lunch at Neiman Marcus on Jan. 28, 2010.

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Miss Indiana Katie Stam listens to host Mario Lopez before answering a question during the 2009 Miss America Pageant in Planet Hollywood.

It’s an evil, ugly crime against women -- and after a sexual violent attack, they tend to live in silence with the shame and stigma for the rest of their lives. Its victims certainly never forget rape.

But 24-year-old Miss Nevada Christina Keegan aims to change that in speaking out for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Its her platform, “Strength Over Silence: Rape Education & Recovery,” at tomorrow night’s 2010 Miss America Pageant at the Theater for Performing Arts in Planet Hollywood.

“I am certainly the first ever Miss America giving rape victims a voice,” Christina said. “I’d also be the first ever Miss America from Nevada if I win, and I’d only be the third redhead in the pageant’s history.

“It took me six years to become Miss Nevada, but I have dreamed of being Miss America for as long as I can remember.

Christina has already placed second runner-up in the Miss America Quality of Life Awards for her platform, which won her a $2,000 scholarship. She will earn a minimum of $3,000 for her appearance tomorrow night, and if she wins, it would be another $50,000. In various Nevada pageants over six years to date, she’s earned $20,000 in scholarships.

This is her last opportunity to be a Miss America because the cutoff ends on the contestant’s 25th birthday. Christina, who worked as a blackjack dealer for six months in Lake Tahoe to also help put herself through college, has just completed her first year of medical school at the University of Utah. If she wins the title tomorrow, her one suitcase is packed for the next 365 days on the road.

“It is very exciting that Las Vegas and Nevada have been home for Miss America for five years now. So it’s a little bit of a celebration this year. I just really feel blessed to represent my home state, my hometown and my family and everything that I love about this state.

“I’ve had to explain a lot of things to the other contestants who want to know everything about this town. They are very curious. I’ve had to tell them that all the rainy weather we have been having is not common. I think that Las Vegas is having an identity crisis and it thinks it’s Seattle! So I have been totally apologizing for the wetness.”

I asked Christina if it was going to be difficult voting for the other girls who should be in “America’s Choice” on tonight’s Miss America: Behind the Curtain special hosted by Clinton Kelly on TLC that then lets viewers vote for the Top 15 semifinalists.

Christina said: “Not at all because your name is at the top of that ballot, and at the end of this, if that crown’s not on my head, it’s on another contestant’s. She’s my Miss America, too. So I want to know that I am putting somebody’s name down on that ballot who I can support. If someone asks me, ‘How is Miss America? What is she really like?’ I can say, ‘She is wonderful, she wants this job for the right reasons, and she’s going to work hard.’

“So it is going to be easy. There are a lot of great girls here who are going to work hard and who are very passionate about this organization. There are 53 girls, and as much as I feel like I am the right girl for this job, I feel very prepared that this is a crapshoot. It’s Las Vegas, after all! I know that my fate is resting in the six judges’ hands. I am just hoping that if it is not me, then it is someone with whom I can really put my faith.

“I would also be the first medical student if I won, and I would be the first Miss America with the platform of rape education and recovery.”

While on the last night of a four-week educational trip to Spain in 2005, Christina was raped. Christina knows her drink was drugged in a date rape, and she came to not knowing where she was or how she’d gotten there. What she did know was that she’d been raped, and an immediate hospital visit confirmed that it had happened while she was drugged and unconscious.

I asked her if the painful memory would scar her and be with her for the rest of her life. She told me: “It’s absolutely why I have this platform. I didn’t tell my family, my friends, because I was so ashamed. I didn’t even report it to the authorities. Victims of rape put the blame on themselves, and they suffer alone in silence. People like to think it is something they can put behind them. Like making a mistake on a test, but it is not. It’s a part of who you are, it’s a part of your past, a part of your present and a part of your future.

“Nobody likes to talk about sex and violence. It’s kept at arm’s length as being dirty, but I decided to embrace the subject. Sexual assault is not a pretty issue, but it needs to be addressed. I think it’s important to say I’m a survivor and I’m not ashamed. I know it is something that will affect you for the rest of your life. It’s not something you can think, ‘If I try really, really hard, I can just go back to being how I was before.’

“That’s impossible, so you have to make the decision -- do I want this to be a positive thing in my life and really empower me? Or do I want it to bring me down for the rest of my life? I decided to empower myself and other individuals, because it’s not just me. There’s a real reward being able to speak out about my story.

“I want to help bring better understanding and finding what this crime is all about and hope to prevent rape in the future. You don’t have to be ashamed, and you’re not alone. There are 20 million other Americans who are survivors of sexual assault living in America, and they need a face, and they need a voice. I am ready to be that girl.”

Our Senior Editor John Katsilometes also interviewed Christina this week.

More Miss America news

*Oprah Winfrey’s producers are trying to book Miss Puerto Rico Mimi Pabon to appear on the talk show after the pageant to talk about her being the first contestant in 50 years from the island commonwealth country. Mimi received the call seconds after I’d just finished interviewing her!

*Continuing the tradition begun by 2009 Miss America Katie Stam, 2010 Miss America 2010 contestants Miss Kentucky and Miss Massachusetts visited Pink’s Hot Dogs at Planet Hollywood to make their own Miss America hot dogs. Footage from Pink’s will be broadcast during the Miss America Pageant tomorrow night on TLC.

*All 53 contestants will join Katie at the first open house celebration of the new time-share hotel PH Towers Westgate at 5 p.m. today. Chairman and CEO David Segal flies in from his Florida HQ this morning for the event. The 52-story property alongside Planet Hollywood features 28 penthouse suites and more than 1,200 luxury rooms. The grand entrance connects directly to The Miracle Mile Shops.

*Tonight is the Evening of Dreams gala for Miss America, which I will emcee along with 16 Miss Americas and all of tomorrow’s pageant contestants. Yesterday, all 16 -- including TV personalities Lee Meriwether, Phyllis George and Amazing Race runner-up Ericka Dunlap -- were at the Miss America luncheon at Neiman Marcus in Fashion Show mall, along with Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2010 Jeanette Morelan.

*Ericka told me about her experience of rappelling head first in a 43-story drop down the face of Mandalay Bay as one of the Emmy-winning CBS series’ challenges. We’ll have that interview next week, along with the story of the former Miss America’s emotional trip to visit U.S. troops in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.

*Poor Phyllis, suffering with an inflamed cheek, has to undergo a painful root canal upon her return home Monday. She defied her dentist, who advised that she have the surgery and skip attending the pageant here.

*Misses New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Alabama, Washington and Oregon are finalists in the Green Is Gorgeous interactive eco contest hosted by Tamara Henry. More than 20,000 people have voted to date at GreenTwithTamara.tv, and the winner will be announced during tomorrow’s pageant. I did an interview with the Internet video site yesterday talking about how MGM’s new CityCenter won several separate certifications for being environmentally conscious.

*Here’s the running order of tomorrow night’s telecast: After the parade of all 53 contestants, Mario Lopez is introduced as host and makes his welcoming remarks and introduces the judges. At that point, look for a totally new and unexpected twist that will affect the entire show. TLC will have kept the startling, unknown segment secret from everybody. Immediately afterward, the 15 semifinalists will be announced, and 2009 Miss America Katie Stam is introduced for the final time, along with Outstanding Teen 2010 Jeanette Morelan.

Then come the four competition segments of Lifestyle & Fitness, Evening Wear, Talent and the onstage question that cut the candidates down to a final seven. Katie takes her final walk as Miss America, and the four runner-ups are announced. That will leave three contestants onstage, and one of them will then be crowned 2010 Miss America.

We’ll have that photo report moments after the coronation here at Vegas DeLuxe.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.