dancers face real dangers
Friday, July 7, 2006
NEW YORK (AP) — For some jobs, danger comes
with the territory.
Trees fall on loggers. Pilots crash. Fishermen
drown. Roofers fall.
But there’s one hazardous job that isn’t in
the Labor Department’s list of the 10 most dangerous professions
in America: exotic dancing.
It’s a profession with no training manual, no
safety instructions, no check-in system, sometimes no bodyguards,
most likely no boss encouraging employees to take self-defense
classes. Even in a strip club, where there are several bouncers
around the stage, who’s to say a woman won’t be attacked when
she is in a private “VIP room”?
“When we go out to do private parties, whether
we’re sent by an escort agency or not, when you don’t know somebody,
you’re at risk of walking into a dangerous situation,” says
Robyn Few, a former prostitute and exotic dancer who is now
director of the Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA. “Even in a
strip club, there is an element of danger when we lock ourselves
in a room; we’re at risk of being manhandled, sexually assaulted.”
Some people would say a stripper going into
a stranger’s home alone to bare it all for groups of intoxicated,
rowdy men is like a woman walking down a dark alley alone at
2 a.m. You don’t do it. But for strippers, this is how they
earn their living -- for some, as much as $3,000 for a night’s
work -- and many are willing to give money priority over safety.
Research shows strippers make up a disproportionate
share of rape victims, says Mary Anne Layden, a psychotherapist
who counsels strippers, prostitutes and sex offenders. She says
when a stripper allows a man to invade her visually, she inadvertently
sends the message that it is OK to do physically.
Kelly Holsopple, a former stripper, conducted
a survey where she interviewed 18 strippers about strip club
violence. Three of them said they’d had a customer force them
to have intercourse. Five had had a customer grab their breasts
at least once a day, and 13 had been punched or kicked by men
associated with the club. More than half of the 18 had had customers
follow them home.
“Here’s a work environment that produces those
types of experiences,” says Layden. “How many women do you know
who are willing to work in jobs where they are slapped, bitten,
called ‘cunt’ and ’whore’? Think about it. Strip clubs have
bodyguards. The reason you have a bodyguard is because the activity
asap spoke to several former and current strippers
who reported some harrowing experiences: going to a job alone
in the middle of nowhere; being taunted and never getting paid
after performing for hours; being doused by a man with champagne,
while his friends cheered; going through an agency that promised
to provide a bouncer, and then ending up either with no bouncer
or a bouncer that cost them half their check.
“I had to learn the hard way,” says Jenna Jasmine.
“One time I went to a party by myself and I did many things
wrong. One: I was under the influence of marijuana. Two: I didn’t
take a driver. And number three: I didn’t get paid first. Those
are the things I have added to my absolute mandatory safety
THE HOME vs. THE CLUB
The potential dangers of stripping have been
playing out in the national media, with three white Duke University
lacrosse players facing charges of raping a black exotic dancer
who was hired to perform at a team party. The stripper, a 28-year-old
mother of two and college student, told police she was dragged
into a bathroom, where she was raped, beaten and choked for
about 30 minutes. A second dancer says the men were hurling
racial epithets as she and the accuser left.
Attorneys for the players say their clients
Whether or not a crime was committed, several
strippers say the case speaks to a glaring problem with the
sex worker industry: There is no respect for the profession.
“It has been a long-standing tradition to not
care about the sex worker,” says Veronica Monet, a certified
sex educator and internationally known sex-worker-rights activist
-- and, formerly, a prostitute and porn star. “The people who
are employing you should tell you, ’Here are the safety tips
you need to do this job.’ They should say, ’We care about our
employees, and we are here to protect them.’ Unfortunately we
have this attitude about women who are strippers -- that they
are worthless and don’t really warrant protection.”
That protection is usually better in a strip
club than in a private home, where there are no rules and no
bouncers to clobber a guy if he touches a stripper on the pole.
But in the club, women also face the prospect of being abused
by people who work there. Of the 18 strippers Holsopple talked
to for her survey, two said club owners “forced intercourse”
on them as a condition of employment.
“The whole environment is toxic,” says Layden,
who speaks out against strip clubs. “If you call going to a
place where you’re going to be depressed, stalked, likely to
use cocaine or alcohol as your coping strategy, engage in activities
that cause you to be unable to maintain a marriage, be pressured
to get breast implants, don’t you think it’s dangerous to have
The stripper in the Duke case was working for
an escort agency, stripping to make ends meet. Since the case
came into the public eye, the Rev. Jesse Jackson has stepped
in to pay for the rest of her college education.
There has been no mention of the stripper coming
to the party with a bodyguard -- something most agencies don’t
“It’s one of those, ’If you want this, then
you can have it but you have to pay for it,”’ says Monet. “Then
you think, ’Maybe I don’t need it after all.’ But the responsibility
should lie with the employer to establish a safe environment,
invest in their employees and show their employees some respect.”
In the case of rape, Layden says strippers are
less likely to report the crime because of the “you-were-asking-for-it
mentality.” She also notes that most strippers were sexually
abused as children so they tend to think the rape was their
“I have a number of patients come in and say,
’He wanted to have sex, I told him no, and then he had sex with
me,”’ says Layden. “I will say, ’What day did the rape happen?’
She says ’No, I wasn’t raped. I shouldn’t have gotten in the
That sort of thinking may be slowly changing.
There is a growing sex-workers-rights movement,
with organizations like the Sex Workers Outreach Project and
conferences like one in Las Vegas next week, called “Re-visioning
Prostitution Policy: Creating Space for Sex Worker Rights and
Challenging Criminalization.” San Francisco even has a union
for strippers, the Exotic Dancers Alliance. [emphasis added
“It’s about time we say when a sex worker is
raped or murdered, it’s just as important than when any other
woman is raped or murdered,” Monet says.
Whatever the outcome of the Duke case, it remains
to be seen whether the publicity surrounding it will cause many
strippers to change careers. But maybe some will put some thought
into precautions before they go out tonight.
Megan Scott is an asap reporter based in New