After lifetime of abuse, she found escape, empowerment through exotic dancing | Commentary

By Crystal Lee Special to The Eagle

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of guest columns by Wichita-area residents to tell their stories, in their words, spotlighting barriers that deter full participation in the life of the community. Funding for Unheard Voices has been provided by the American Press Institute through its Civic Discourse and Community Voices Fund.

My name is Crystal.

I am 32 and a resident of Wichita.

I am a single mother of two wonderful amazing kiddos.

I also am a part time dancer at a gentlemen’s club, and have been in the entertainment industry on and off over the course of 14 years.

I also love advocating for my community and all of its wonderful resources.

My life nowadays is filled with enjoyment for the most part, minus everyday mom struggles. But what mom doesn’t have those?

My community resources and people in my life have helped me so much along this path to becoming the self-sufficient, independent woman that I am today.


My life has not always been so beautiful or vibrant. Needless to say, I’ve had to work for the life I have, and I’m still very much a work in progress.

I started out in Monroe, Louisiana, where I was born.

Growing up I faced many hardships.

I was placed into foster care around the age of 13 after moving to Kansas with my family, because of multiple forms of abuse happening in my house.

Foster care, to say the least, was no walk in the park.

In fact, the foster care agency I was in turned a blind eye to abuse that was happening in their own system to me, and many others who also were in the system.

At 18, I aged out. But my problems didn’t stop there. Having been groomed by a worker within the system, I was trafficked and stuck in a cycle of abuse that I myself was not even aware of until years later.

After escaping this and finding help, through women I danced with while being trafficked, I was able to finally start seeing the whole picture and just how much I felt set up by the system to fail.

My anger fueled my desire to go after the system directly and finally get started on my own journey of healing.

In 2015, I filled a lawsuit against the foster care agency that employed my trafficker.

The lawsuit was settled, but I still had so much to say and do, I went on to tell my story to those who would listen. In 2020 I advocated for the creation of the office of the child advocate, which Gov. Laura Kelly established by executive order in 2021.


After being in therapy over the course of this time since filing my lawsuit, I learned so much about myself and patterns that made me susceptible to other abusive relationships.

I also started to recognize how my relationship with my second child’s father had its own whirlwind of red flags and abuse. I told him that I intended to leave the relationship and start healing myself.

I thought I had read all the signs and was doing the right thing, and I was, but I had no idea how dangerous leaving was going to be. The abuse only sped up after I voiced my concerns and reasons for leaving.

In 2021, after an escalation in the relationship, I left and went to the Harbor House domestic violence shelter in Wichita.

I cannot speak highly enough on just how much their program helped me, although as I have been reminded, a lot of it was me and my willingness to get out and get help that really made it possible.

Harbor House gave me a safe place to begin that process and I will forever be grateful for that.

From Harbor House I transitioned into Stepstone Ministries, yet another place that I am so beyond grateful for in so many ways.

While there, I completed a two-year program designed to help woman get on their feet and find their independence after leaving domestic violence.

Stepstone helped me get on HUD, a program that helps low-income families with housing.


The programs in my community, and my own self-healing, have been the biggest catalysts in my life, that have helped me on this path I am on.

The things I enjoy the most in my life right now are my dancing, my community, my kids, and my support team that consists of amazing people who have been there and supported me.

Dancing has allowed for me to meet so many like-minded women and given me a place to express my sexuality and creativity in a safe environment.

It’s so much more than a job or a hobby, it’s also given me so much self-confidence over the years. When I am on the stage I feel so empowered and love the art of attraction that pulls people to the stage to watch me.

I am still on this path of self-love, healing and growth, and I know now it’s going to be a lifelong journey. But the things it has given me — self-empowerment, independence, hope and happiness — have all made this journey the best journey yet.

I have a strong desire to continue in school and become a social worker/advocate for homeless and young adults aging out of the system today.

Honestly, having programs like ICT SOS, which fights human trafficking, Harbor House and Stepstone were a huge part of my success.

My hope is to continue to grow individually and with my community, and one day to give back to my community in the ways it has given to me — and more.

This article was republished here with the permission of: The Wichita Eagle