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Strippers are being coerced and abused - they're calling for better protection

Caitlin Clarke
ruby strip 3
Woman at work   Caitlin Clarke

Women working as strippers are wanting more rules and safety enforced to keep them safe in their workplaces.  

A 19-year-old from Christchurch who goes by the stripper name Skylar has been in the industry for a year. 

She says stripping is a job like any other and so appropriate protections should be in place. 

“People think that we sell our bodies for our work which comes with risks but a laborer and hospitality worker sell their bodies too, just in a different way.”

Tasha is a woman from Wellington who's been in the industry for three years having worked in clubs all over New Zealand and in Australia. 

Her experience is both an exciting and problematic one.  

The first club she worked at was in Wellington. She explained there was a culture where new girls were disliked and picked on. 

Some girls were being paid by customers to 'roofy' (date rape drug) new young workers. 

“We were at a work party and I suddenly felt unwell and intoxicated so luckily I decided to take myself out of the venue. I passed out on Courtney Place not long after and a taxi driver helped me get home.” 

She explained the job is a grey area and it’s easy for business owners to exploit their staff. 

Sexual abuse and assault is common and something many workers feel they have to put up with in order to keep their job.  

The issue is the women are often not deemed to be employees but instead independent contractors.

“We’re really replaceable so we often feel like we can’t talk to management about issues we’re having.” 

Many girls are hesitant to make formal complaints and take legal action because they want to keep their job a secret. 

Often there is only one person overseeing a club, so there are no layers of authority to raise concerns with. 

“In a Wellington club a girl got drugged and taken home but management didn't do anything about it until 5am because they didn't want business to be ruined by police coming in the club.”

Tasha, along with two other girls, went to the union for sex workers and tried to build a case but the process meant involving management and needing statements from multiple employees. 

This was too risky as it could mean losing their jobs.

“The nature of the industry is that a lot of the girls that are impacted negatively just move clubs and the club replaces the girl and the issue is never addressed.”

In Australia she says her experience was safer because managers would sit in the same room girls were performing lap dances, watching the guys and quickly removing them if they were breaking rules. 

In New Zealand she didn't experience the same enforcement. 

“There are private rooms which you get locked into and without enough bouncers, it can be hard to get out.” 

Even though there are emergency buttons, she feels as if young women struggle to assert their boundaries which managers exploit. 

“Young women aren't taught how to say no or how to enforce themselves, so when you get young 18 to 20-year-olds with men who are older and know how to manipulate a situation, you get some problematic scenarios.”

Layla is a young university student who loves to dance and recently started stripping as a way to fund her studies. 

She likes the work so far but was shocked by the lack of training she had before going on stage.  

After her first shift she learnt the hard way that she needed to be more assertive with customers at enforcing the club's rules and setting boundaries because no one else was doing so for her. 

Customers are getting kicked out but usually after incidents have already occurred. 

Tasha has previously wanted to pursue a legal case but doesn't want it on her records. 

“I like the career but I don't like the rules and laws in place to protect women because I don't think it’s very well considered.”

The women are wanting more rules around safety, external parties looking into what’s going on in the clubs and having an organisation that can hold managers and clubs accountable.  

The New Zealand sex workers union says these businesses need a shakedown and WorkSafe should step in. 

“It’s a frustrating pattern of abusive management styles and coercion.”

The union was formed from a group of sex workers in the 80’s to fight for women's rights, safety and wellbeing. 

The union has a bad history with authority and winning court cases. 

Catherine Healy, a union spokesperson, says this comes from ignorance and a lack of basic understanding to what the reality of a sex worker is.  

“There aren't many strip clubs so people are having to put up with very abusive behaviors because they’re scared that if they get kicked out they’ll lose their ability to work anywhere.

"The union can only do so much. It will take many girls to speak on their experiences and take action together in order for WorkSafe to build a case."