Is she taking that off because she wants to or because she has to?
February 9, 2015 6:06 PM   Subscribe

My husband is going to a bachelor party in Austin. There will be a trip to the strip club. I have no personal problem with him going (though he's not very excited about it). The problem is that I just watched Nicholas Kristof's documentary on sex trafficking in the US.

So now we're trying to figure out what the chances are that in any given strip club in Austin, he could encounter a woman who is there because she has been coerced in some way. And do those chances change if it is a 'high class' strip club? I have found information on sex trafficking in general, but most of it seems to be focused on brothels or 'massage parlors.'

As a metafiltarian himself, he trusts you all to tell him whether he should object to this activity for this specific moral reason.
posted by oryelle to Human Relations (22 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'm troubled by sex trafficking too, I'm pretty comfortable that strippers aren't the kind of sex workers who are being pimped or trafficked, although I'm open to being set right on that score.

This is mostly because you don't have to force people into stripping. The club keeps 50% of all earnings, so why go through all the bother of housing, buying, and keeping women against their will, when there are plenty of women who will do it without being forced. Who will do it willingly, and there is plenty of money to go around.

Read Candy Girl by Diablo Cody for some context. I also like the movie Players Club. It depicts the whole thing as pretty blue collar and kind of a drag.

I've been to a strip club (long story, really shitty date) and frankly, I can't think of anything less interesting. I went to Pure Platinum in Ft. Lauderdale. The women were bored and wouldn't look anyone in the eye. Lots of plastic body parts. Kind of a yawn. Not sexy at all.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:15 PM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

Nicholas Kristof is considered a total douchebag by many professional sex workers. For the most part, sex workers are making the same kinds of choices all workers do: to do a job that pays money they need to live, even though the job has it's down sides. Stripping is in many ways a much more desirable job than say, fast food work or janitorial work. There are people in janitorial work and fast food who were manipulated or tricked into coming to the US, and people in those lines of work who have very few other options - just like sex work. But there can be perks to sex work that other jobs don't have. Like most jobs, sex work can be good, bad, boring, or whatever, but it is not innately slavery - in fact, it rarely is so.

Check out some critiques of Kristof , here, here, here, here, and here.
posted by latkes at 6:28 PM on February 9, 2015 [39 favorites]

I've seen some ethnography of strippers, and chatted with someone who was both an ethnographer and a stripper, and no one ever mentioned trafficking. Of course there are other kinds of coercion, like drug dependency and/or abusive boyfriends and/or just plain economics. But none of those are going to be improved by boycotting strip clubs. If anything, lack of demand for strippers would just force those with least power into riskier forms of sex work.
posted by feral_goldfish at 6:35 PM on February 9, 2015 [7 favorites]

I live in Austin. I've not been to a strip club in Texas in all of the time I've lived here (25+ years). I am arguably not the best person to ask about Austin strip clubs, but - despite the many failings of the Austin Police Dept - I think that any strip club that attempted to use 'involuntary' labor would maybe last 48 hours max before it was shut down with extreme prejudice. I know this sounds flaky, but the vibe in this town simply wouldn't tolerate the survival of such a business. Not out in the open.
posted by doctor tough love at 6:37 PM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

When I lived in Atlanta as a young lad a surprising number of the dancers at The Gold Club (the hot club at the time) were GA Tech students working their way through college. Especially at a high end club, the girls are making pretty damn good money on an hourly basis. I suspect the law of supply and demand at those clubs favors the clubs. They don't need to force anyone to do it.
posted by COD at 6:42 PM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

I've known a solid handful of strippers (ex- and current) in Austin, at a variety of clubs, and none of them said a word about trafficking. (Irresponsibility and rampant drug use, but no coercion.) Doesn't mean there isn't any, but I'd be pretty surprised I hadn't heard a whisper about it.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:44 PM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

Something I've noticed, from knowing friends who are or have been dancers: a lot of the guys who go to strip clubs like to imagine, on some level, either that the women are super into it and super into just being so hot or else that they're helpless economic pawns of the dudes watching. And really, it's just a job - where some of the customers are okay, sometimes management is okay, but a lot of times the customers are creepy and/or pathetic and the management is super sketch. I have never gotten the sense that there are trafficked women working with my friends, but there are a whole hell of a lot of women who have a pretty jaundiced view of straight dudes, that's for sure - no one going to a strip club should kid himself about that.
posted by Frowner at 7:02 PM on February 9, 2015 [9 favorites]

I would be super-suprised to have a stripper in a US-city's public club involved in trafficking, especially given the recession. There might be women working without full consent on a case-by-case basis (pimp/partner forcing them, club owner using debts to force them) but it's not systematic like it can be with the massage places and brothels and classified ads.

If he wants to do a solid, he can read up on etiquette from a stripper and get his group of friends to be well-behaved customers for a more pleasant evening for the women working.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:03 PM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've been to Yellow Rose (which is where he's probably going) a couple times. It's fairly nice as far as these things go. I very seriously doubt anything having to do with human trafficking is going on there.
posted by stinkfoot at 7:10 PM on February 9, 2015

To be fair, I think the idea that in the U.S. women in strip clubs are never coerced or trafficked is a very naive attitude. It may exist more at the sketchy places where women may also perform sex acts or engage in illegal activities, and it may not be super common, but it's not like it's something that doesn't exist. Yes, I'm going to bet the women in paying their way through college by stripping are doing it for the money. But this riveting AskMetaFilter thread comes to mind where a pair of Russian women in a supposed work exchange had almost been scammed into working at a strip club.

I doubt your husband is going to that kind of strip club, but since you don't name it, it's not like we can check. You'll just have to use your judgment.
posted by AppleTurnover at 7:28 PM on February 9, 2015

I waitressed in strip clubs in Houston for 5 years. I worked in some of the top clubs, and one of the sleaziest. I never saw even the tiniest evidence of sex trafficking. If there had been, the other women working there would have been aware of it and would have gotten involved to help them. (Yes, there is honor and altruism among strippers.)

There are literally thousands of women doing it voluntarily, so there's no need to force anyone.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:32 PM on February 9, 2015 [12 favorites]

I grew up with a friend in high school whose parents owned a strip club. I can tell you for a fact that they were not coercing the girls in anyway and most of the time seemed happy to have enough girls show up. (I don't know enough about the industry but it seems like for certain places the girls freelance more than they're full-time employees).

Heck the Lusty Lady in SF is unionized.

That being said I don't think you can say it never happens, especially on the outer fringes with places that are barely strip clubs so much as a single girl at the end of the bar. There's the legendary thread about some girls from Russia who were pretty much scammed and supposed to meet some Russina guys at a strip club.
posted by bitdamaged at 7:34 PM on February 9, 2015

I've been to a strip club (long story, really shitty date) and frankly, I can't think of anything less interesting

I've been to what feels like a gazillion strip clubs and I agree with this. I've gone because I've had coworkers who liked to go and I'm happy enough to sit and drink a beer while other people pay for lap dances or whatever; naked people are always nice to look at but after the first five minutes it loses all novelty. I've never been in one in the US that had a vibe of anything worse going on than blowjobs and maybe drugs for sale if you knew who to ask.

That said, I've never been in the real bottom of the market places in the US and if you were going to unlicensed places that were operating under the radar, then I think it could be a real concern. But legal, licensed places have plenty of applicants and don't need to risk trafficking people. That doesn't mean that everyone there is happy and fully self-actualized, just that it is an industry that pays fairly well with no educational requirements and flexible hours.

Nicholas Kristof is considered a total douchebag by many professional sex workers.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:58 PM on February 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

Briefly on mobile: You have an almost 0% chance of encountering women who have been "trafficked" in the sense that Kristof has sensationalized, ie kidnapped and forced into local or international sex slavery, at any strip club. It's not a corner of the sex industry that has much crossover with that kind of criminal activity. Btw, Kristof is someone who gets off on the victimization of the women he's profiling in a way that I find to be pornographic and disturbing ( I remember an op-ed he did for the NYT contrasting his own privileged upbringing with that of a a sex worker with fetal alcohol syndrome). He is not a trustworthy source about sex workers and any exploitation or abuse they may be suffering. I would encourage you to find sources by sex work activists (not Diablo Cody) if you're interested in a better and less exploitative take than Kristof's. Tell your husband to read the etiquette guide viggorlijah linked to, and good luck.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 8:37 PM on February 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

Agree with all of the above that Kristof is not a remotely legitimate source of information on the sex work industry in the US or elsewhere. For better sources of information on the reality of working in the sex industry, Mindy Chateauvert's Sex Workers Unite! or Melissa Gira Grant's Playing the Whore.

> Heck the Lusty Lady in SF is unionized.

Alas, the Lusty Lady is also closed now.
posted by gingerbeer at 8:55 PM on February 9, 2015 [7 favorites]

When I was a college student in Atlanta studying anthropology, I was doing research on female drug users under one professor. As part of my work for her, in addition to the research I did for a class on rituals, I spent a bit of time backstage at The Gold Club (which, like COD said, was the hot club at the time). I also spoke with many other dancers at a variety of other clubs - both upscale and downscale.

I interviewed many of the women extensively about their backgrounds, how they ended up as dancers, their on-stage personas, etc. (The "ritual" I studied was how they assumed their on-stage personas with makeup, outfit choices, and attitude.) A good portion of them were college students working to pay for tuition. Many of them danced to make money for drugs, and others to put food on the table for their kids. I didn't speak to anyone who had even a hint of a trafficking background, and they were all pretty forthcoming about their motivations for being there.

So, at least anecdotally, your husband is probably OK if trafficking is the specific thing you guys are concerned about. I'm sure it happens, but it's probably comparatively rare.
posted by gemmy at 9:13 PM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am a stripper.


Latkes and everyone else is right: Nicholas Kristof is widely regarded in the sex industry as an incompetent sensationalist hack who makes the world a worse place.

(Tits and Sass citation. NSFW. A blog written by sex workers, for sex workers. And yes, even as a stripper who plays by the rules and doesn't have sex, I consider myself a sex worker.)


The short answer: Yes, sex trafficking happens sometimes at some strip clubs. It is naive to say "never." It also happens at hotels, casinos, and myriad other places.

The sensationalist horror stories that Kristof purports? Very, very, very rare.

The majority of real life sex trafficking at strip clubs doesn't make for a shocking documentary. The girl in an unhealthy relationship with an older man who pushes her to keep working even though she hates her job? We're not really surprised that she works at the strip club in our city. (Or a million other non-sexual workplaces in our city.)

I have worked in the industry for a while and met hundreds of strippers. Obviously I don't have a window into the lives of my coworkers, but seeing as stripping involves reading people I don't know, I think I'm relatively good at judging situations by small signs and instinct. To my knowledge, I haven't encountered any Kristof situations.


Having worked at clubs at both ends of the "class" spectrum, yes, I think the chances that your boyfriend will run into trafficking is lower at a nice club. A nicer club has a lot more to lose by hiring someone who is being trafficked, and often, better people in charge at the top.

But for what it's worth? Generally speaking, the club is more concerned about underage trafficking than 18+ trafficking because the latter is harder to prove in a court.

Dancers often don't work very long at a club, making it harder for the management to get to know them and realize that something is wrong. And realistically, the sex industry doesn't always attract the most reliable of individuals. A lot of possible signs of trafficking (cycling through different clubs, no-showing for shifts, being under the influence at work, getting picked up after work by an older guy) are common behaviors for many non-trafficked girls in the industry.


So I guess it comes down to what percentage chance of "trafficking risk" you and your husband are okay with. I can't answer it for you.

To the extent that I would argue in favor of visiting a club, I would say this:

If you decide not to patronize the club based on the risk that a dancer may be being trafficked, you won't patronize me and my friends. We aren't trafficked, we like our jobs. You seem like a nice person, and I hope your husband and his friends are nice people too. The strip club industry gets better the more good people get involved with it—and that includes nice people coming by and spending money during a bachelor party.

But if the two of you decide that you aren't comfortable patronizing strip clubs because of the trafficking risk, Peppermint Snowflake the Anonymous Internet Stripper gives you a cyber-hug and thanks you for being thoughtful enough to wonder about trafficking, take the time to post a MetaFilter question, and listen to what I have to say.

Best wishes, whatever your decision.
posted by Peppermint Snowflake at 9:15 PM on February 9, 2015 [82 favorites]

I'm not a huge fan of Kristoff either, but I share your concerns about trafficking.

As one example of the connection between strip clubs and trafficking: Portland, Oregon has a lot of strip clubs. Portland, Oregon has a lot of sex trafficking, particularly of teen girls. It's unlikely that these two things are a coincidence.

It turns out that Texas has a lot of trafficking as well, both international human trafficking and domestic child and/or sex trafficking, in part because of its proximity to an international border as well as I10. Houston, Dallas, and Austin all have problems with this, especially because they attract a lot of runaway youth.

Some relevant data from The State of Human Trafficking in Texas:
In the last quarter of 2007, 30% of the calls received by the National Human Trafficking Hotline originated in Texas and 25% of all international victims certified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services were located in Texas. As of the date publication, the National Human Trafficking Hotline receives more calls from Texas than from any other state.

And here's a December story from Texas Public Radio about efforts to map trafficking in Texas and elsewhere.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:42 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

All I can say is that when I worked for a strip club ... er, was assigned by my employer to work for their client, which happened to be a strip club, and didn't fit the normal client mix because it was owned by my employer's boss's personal attorney ... they had a machine that processed everyone's hours just like any other HR payroll, with taxes, FICA and some sort of 401(k).

(It was a weird gig. I was there only during the day, when the lights are on and the place looks garish as hell. I only met one stripper, who was 100% fully clothed, and was coming in to dispute some back pay issue, so that's where the payroll system came into play.)
posted by dhartung at 9:59 PM on February 9, 2015

A strip club in the U.S. that has an alcohol license from local authorities is unlikely to be trafficking. Because alcohol licenses are kinda hard to get, require you to be on the up-and-up to keep them, and strip clubs invite constant scrutiny from irate neighbors trying to make them lose their alcohol licenses. They are also clearly and obviously paying taxes if they have an alcohol license (you lose it if you screw up your taxes), so the dancers -- whether contractors or employees -- are unlikely to be working totally off the books. You can also google up the health department inspection reports for the kitchen. A bar-and-restaurant that is interfacing that much with local authorities and doing all the work to stay compliant just isn't going to be a good place to hide women being trafficked, regardless of the nakedness of some employees.

(In fact you're probably more likely to find people who have questionable immigration papers and entered the country in non-official ways that may have involved payment to human traffickers (i.e., coyotes) in the kitchen working as dishwashers -- that's where the shady restaurant hiring goes on.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:32 AM on February 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

A lot of my friends have done stripping and I have heard a lot of sad stories of how it impacted them. I think some people are well suited to it, deal with it ok, for my friends they had to use a lot of drugs to deal with how bad it made them feel.

A lot describe a sense that their bodies should be public property for others to enjoy and had experienced a lot of cultural training and lack of support to counter that in their early lives and lack of support received if they didn't play that part. I completely believe my friends and family may be a minority due to selection bias etc. but they do exist. So I wouldn't pretend there isn't a risk some people there are not being well served or even actively harmed by what they are experiencing at work. Having been friends with and worked with a lot of runaway/foster/homeless youth who get streamlined into sex work and stripping for survival, my own vision of those who are truly being exploited in these situations is too strong for me to be relieved much by the fact that some or even many aren't.

I will say I am sensitive about any type of risky or low paid work- and the fact that stripping and sex work is on a continuum of other destructive jobs with high rates of harms to workers does not mean we should therefore ignore and spend as usual, but care very much about how we engage given these things.

I am very much in favor of dancer/stripper designed performance, plenty of people love dancing, entertaining and being sexy for a crowd- if we could create enough protections around it that dancers could be as sexy or not sexy as they want in a performance and have higher self determination in artistic and self expression I think it would be great. I think there are plenty who are engaging from this kind of empowered place- even if not DELIGHTED to be there, ok with it and enjoy it sometimes inasmuch as many people do given that most people would rather not be forced to work every day for money even when they don't want to-- I still feel uncomfortable knowing those who have not been engaging from there.

So to me, if he goes-- tip well, and be nice.
posted by xarnop at 8:41 AM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thank you for the thoughtful answers, particularly the insights into sex work and Nicholas Kristof. My husband will most likely go, since it seems like the risk is generally low, and he will do his best to be a model patron.
posted by oryelle at 4:45 PM on February 10, 2015

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