Ending Human Trafficking: The Link between Strip Clubs and Sexual Exploitation – closer than you think!

Two weeks from graduating college, I sat in one of my elective courses and debated my female professor on the pros and cons of strip clubs. She argued it was completely acceptable for her husband to go and that females just needed to learn this was what men do. I was shocked to even be having this debate, and honestly it shifted my opinion of her slightly to hear her excuse the behavior.

I’ve sure you’ve heard some of the excuses.

It’s no big deal. 

It’s a rite of passage for 18-year-old boys. I’d rather that than hiring a “hooker.

Look, the dancer I spoke to last night wants to dance. She’s paying for her college tuition.

As I’ve been learning more and more about the intricacies of human trafficking within the broader scope of sexual exploitation, I can’t help but wonder why strip clubs have been able to fly under the radar in our discussions of human trafficking. I’ve never seen a conference with a breakout on strip clubs.

“… part of the reason is because many people who go to strip clubs are just average, law abiding people who just want a titillating experience …” Kjersti Bohmer

Kjersti is the founder of Beautiful & Loved, a faith-based, survivor-led outreach and care group for women in the Twin Cities’ adult industry. In talking with her she helped to break down some of the reasons she thinks it is often not looked at as a form of sex trafficking, or even sexual violence.

Despite the growing number of women speaking out about the abuse and violence they have experienced while working in a strip club, it seems going to strip clubs is still something seen as normal.  Kjersti says that it’s likely due to the fact that when people have gone to strip clubs they’ve only experienced positive emotions.

“Who is going to buy dances from someone who reminds them of Eeyore?” Kjersti remarks. The women in strip clubs are paid to smile and make everyone have a good time. It’s their job to remove any form of shame, guilt or taboo of being in a strip club. The longer people are there, the more money the club is going to make. For the individuals who’ve never gone into a strip club, this is the false reality they are being presented with.

Often times women who work at strip clubs learn quickly that they can make more money by offering private dances, sadly this usually increases the likelihood of experiencing a sexual assault. However, the sad reality is that simply working in a strip club significantly increases the likelihood of being sexually assaulted.

Kjersti estimates that nearly 85% of women working in the strip club are survivors of sexual violence and may experience another form of it on every shift they work.

Interestingly though, strip clubs are often presented as the safest place to work in the sex industry. The culture message we receive about them are that they are “no touch” zones and there are consequences to any violation of the rules. However, a recent article detailed the extent of sexual assault dancers experience and lack of protection. [TW:graphic descriptions of sexual assault]

Typically, when anyone does violate any of the no touch suggestions that some strip clubs have, they are just slapped on the wrist. The women just learn to live with it. Over time, they become accustomed to constant forms of sexual violence, boundary violations and assaults and begin to view them as “work hazards”.

In response to the idea that men are feeling good about going to strip clubs because they are helping pay for women’s college degrees, Kjersti says why not just set up a fund for them?  “The reality is men are going to strip clubs to fulfill a sexual fantasy of theirs and the fact that they happened to find a dancer who is paying for college is totally on a whim and a moot point” Kjersti.

“The definition of prostitution is the practice or occupation of engaging in sexual activity with someone for payment … Going to a strip club is buying the idea of sex, it’s live pornography. ” Kjersti Bohmer

When asked why some women are lured into working in strip clubs, Kjersti talks about the love of the party. Lots of women, for a brief time, may feel empowered and excited at the amount of money they can occasionally make. But ask a woman who’s been stripping for several years, who’s experienced several forms of sexual violence, and you’ll see the true damage of this work.

As freedom fighters, it’s incredibly important that we start to pay attention to the way sexual exploitation in the form of strip clubs impacts our conversations around sex trafficking. The reality is, strip clubs are not “safer”, or empowering, or uplifting for anyone.

You can learn more about this topic by reading memoirs of women who’ve survived the industry.  Kjersti recently published her first book, “My Flawless One: Stripping, Tripping, Straying, and Praying”  and we highly recommend getting yourself a copy! Kjersti is so full of wisdom, love and truly has been given a voice to use to fight for justice for women working in the sex industry.

It’s time to start challenging the false beliefs we have about the separation between strip clubs and sexual exploitation/sex trafficking. At its core, these are the same.

If you won’t buy a person off the street, why would you buy a person on a stage?



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