By Hannah Blair
On Saturday nights, as most families are gathering around the supper table or binging their favorite TV shows, volunteers with Hadassah’s Hope prepare to minister to women in the sex industry. As they enter into local strip clubs, the atmosphere shifts. They bring gifts and homecooked meals, opening up doors for conversations. They learn the names of the dancers, which allows them to pray with and for them. They listen to each and every dancer’s heartbreaking story, intentionally pocketing certain information so they can connect the girls to any resource they may need should they make the harrowing choice to leave the commercial sex industry. They become a safe place and as a result, relationships are formed.
These strip clubs are filled with bright, resilient, and creative women. Some are single moms who were forced to get a second job to provide for their kids. Some were roped into a life of sex trafficking as a young child and grew up never knowing a different life was possible. Some were drawn in by the glamour of stripping presented to them on social media and didn’t realize it was a lie until it was too late. These are the women that the heart of Hadassah’s Hope beats for, because they know that as the women take their places to begin work for the night, seven out of ten truly don’t want to be there.
Some women are trafficked into the commercial sex industry; research has proven this is the vast majority. Strip clubs and other facets of the sex industry are often left out of discussions regarding trafficking. We say trafficking is iniquitous, yet an expansive venue for this crime is sanctioned not only to exist but to flourish. Sexually orientated establishments, like strip clubs, are epicenters for trafficking. Traffickers often force their victims to work in strip clubs because they act as a safe haven for this crime. Not only do traffickers utilize strip clubs to advertise their victims, but they can directly sell their “product” under the guise of a working girl and pocket the tips their victims bring in.
Some women begin working in strip clubs willingly. The appeal of making large amounts of cash quickly and the imagined glitz and glamour associated with being a stripper cause many young women to join these agencies unaware of how manipulative and abusive they really are.
Many find themselves quickly losing autonomy over their bodies and being coerced to continue having sex beyond their point of comfort. If they don’t do what is asked, their careers are threatened with blacklisting, pay is withheld, and penalty debts are incurred. They find themselves in debt bondage, barely making ends meet.
Some women begin working in strip clubs because they feel they have no other option. The single mom who finds herself working three jobs and is still unable to make ends meet may decide to become a stripper so she doesn’t lose her home and her children. The young college student who is desperate to be debt-free may choose the commercial sex industry in an attempt to pay off her student loans faster. The high school dropout who got hooked on drugs to deal with her childhood abuse may begin working in a strip club to help feed her drug habit.
In many cases, trafficking survivors fall into this category. Those who are able to escape from their trafficker often face difficulties reintegrating back into society. Many are unable to find housing because they have a criminal record or their trafficker ruined their credit. It can be difficult for them to secure sustainable employment because many never graduated high school. And more often than not, victims are taught they amount to nothing more than a body to be sold for sex, and without resources and a support system in play, many survivors end up back in the sex industry because they truly believe they don’t have a choice. Vulnerability creates fertile ground for re-exploitation.
This is why Hadassah’s Hope exists. Whether or not a dancer is there by “choice”, they are still afforded the opportunity to exit the sex industry with an array of resources designed to empower them. The commercial sex industry is a broad spectrum of complex and nuanced lived experiences and no one has the right to decide that a woman is unworthy of resources because they “chose” their situation.
Every woman deserves to be loosed from her chains, whether placed by someone else or by her own hands.
Bliss doesn’t come from ignorance. Complacency does, and now that you now know the truth, what will you do with it? It’s time to begin changing the misconceptions we hold about the disparities between sexual exploitation/sex trafficking and strip clubs. At the core, these two are one in the same.
Purchasing a woman off the street is deplorable. Why should buying a woman on a stage be any different?