Wednesday, April 18, 2007

My letter to the Police Board

April 16, 2007

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Trina Ricketts, but my stage name was Annie Temple. Although I am no longer dancing, I am in a unique position as founder of The Naked Truth – a resource and advocacy website for exotic dancers – because I frequently receive reports of abuses in clubs around the world, and especially in BC where the majority of our members reside.

Usually the abuses have to do with unheated change rooms in the middle of winter, or locks to accommodations that have not been changed in over a decade and thefts occurring, or clubs charging dancers for illegal fines and expenses. And we usually address these issues by posting this kind of information on the website so dancers can be aware of the abuses and avoid them by not working in those establishments.

However, the recent enforcement by Vancouver Police in strip clubs is a completely different story. Many of the women working as exotic dancers in Vancouver clubs are not free to travel and must continue to work in the clubs where the police are focusing their enforcement of late. These women are working as “house girls” meaning that they work in the same club every week with very flexible schedules. The women who are working in these clubs and not traveling from gig to gig every week, like their stage dancer counterparts, have very valid reasons for this. They have children, or ailing parents, or they are students. Some have medical conditions that make it impossible for them to work other, more mainstream, jobs, never mind travel as stage dancers. One woman in particular who has been extremely impacted by the recent police behavior has a health condition that has led to the termination of her employment in every other job she has EVER had. Stripping in a Vancouver club has been the only consistent job she’s been able to keep – and the income she has generated through this job has paid for her schooling and she hopes it will pay for her own business as well.

The very significant blow to dancers’ incomes in these clubs because of the harassment of club employees, dancers, and customers alike, has led to extreme crisis for many dancers including the one I mentioned above. And the stage dancers who work in the community of Vancouver on a less frequent basis are also feeling the impact financially and emotionally, but they at least can choose to stop working in the clubs (which further impacts the clubs and employees financially because the weekly change of stage dancers is part of what brings the customers in).

Both stage and VIP dancers, as well as club employees, are reporting police officers in groups of 3 to 20, coming in at least twice a week, and daily for some clubs, watching the shows, harassing customers who do not look under 25 for ID, taking photographs of customers tattoos, checking license plates in the parking lots, searching customers and their vehicles without probable cause, and giving tickets to cars in loading zones for less than 10 minutes.

They’ve even gone so far as barging into the dancers’ change rooms without knocking and pulling back the curtains of the private show booths without any warning, catching dancers in the nude and otherwise vulnerable. This is violence to women. No one would like to have a police officer suddenly break into a private space. Meanwhile, they aren’t finding anything and no charges seem to have been laid.

Rumors are that they caught one dancer sitting on a customer’s lap, fully clothed. Does this warrant the humiliation of dancers and abuse being perpetrated against the clubs? The police are asking for more officers, for what? To send them into strip clubs daily to harass customers and dancers when nothing is going on? This is not only an abuse of power, but a waste of tax payer’s money.

These tactics are having the obvious effect of jeopardizing the businesses targeted, which in turn is harming the women working in this industry. These clubs are clean, safe and fair to their employees and have worked hard to help the industry grow. The targeting of these clubs under the premise of undermining the economy of the underworld is unacceptable. Reducing options for women in the sex industry is in total contradiction with the city’s objectives of making people in the sex industry safe.

Many mainstream feminists say that stripping is violence against women. But as someone who has been a stripper for 7 years, I beg to differ. The humiliation practices and income jeopardy that is going on in strip clubs of late IS violence against women. A dancer already has to endure the stigma associated with her profession, but to have police officers barging in on her while performing her job is far beyond what she should be forced to endure.

This misguided action is causing a significant loss in income for the dancers working in these clubs. I know many of them personally – they are supporting their children and parents and spouses. When you take away their income, they are forced to make hard decisions about how they will pay the rent or keep food for their children on the table.

Dancers are already suffering from the strict liquor regulations that prohibit “audience participation” which in effect means that dancers cannot hand posters to customers, can’t even take a piece of clothing that flew off the stage out of the hand of a customer politely giving it back. And they cannot accept tips either. No other province has rules this strict.

In the last couple of years there have been so many closures of strip clubs in BC that many dancers have to find alternate means of income. Sometimes this means going into other forms of sex work that are beyond their physical comfort zones. Other times it means displacement. Many are going to Ontario, where contact dances are the norm. BC, conversely, has historically been a province where women can choose to work as exotic dancers free from physical contact with their patrons.

In a city where we are supposed to be finding ways to protect our sex industry workers, I cannot understand why safe places to work and stable, sustainable livable wages for women are being jeopardized.

Exotic dancing is not an easy profession to leave. You have years missing from your resume. The work experience you gained as a self-employed contractor – promoting yourself, creativity and presentation for your performances, managing the business side and managing complex relationships with business owners, other staff and customers – these skills are not valued in the mainstream community and can even harm a dancer who reveals his/her experience as an exotic dancer.

My understanding is this is an attempt to combat organized crime. The people who own these businesses are always cast as criminals as sex work is criminalized but to us they are the people who give us options. I can assure you, for dancers, one club is much the same as the next. For stage dancers, you work there for a week then 6 days later you move on to the next club. VIP dancers can’t travel all over the country, so they need to have the option of work in the venues here in Vancouver. The other day, a dancer friend and I were trying to figure which clubs were affiliated with “organized crime” and we really didn’t know. That’s how much it touches us. Not at all. So why do the enforcement actions by police against these so-called “gangs” have to affect us?

The options for women with dependents (children or parents) are very few. The idea that all exotic dancers are unskilled and uneducated is untrue. Many of the dancers have university degrees, but even so, are unable to make a decent living for themselves and their families. Exotic dancing is an option and a choice for many, many women. Please don’t jeopardize these safe working spaces.

At the very least, ask us for our input before putting harmful practices in place without our knowledge or understanding of why. Whoever owns these venues or whomever they may or may not be, they are providing safe places for dancers and stable incomes for women. The industry will change as a result of this bullying but it will change for the worse. It will remove safe options for sex industry workers.


Annie Temple Aka Trina Ricketts

Founder of The Naked Truth

Member of the BC Coalition of Experiential Communities


hazel said...

This is very eye opening, thank you for the information.
I admire your advocacy efforts.
Be well.

Steve said...

Did you hear back from the VPD, Annie?

Trina Ricketts aka Annie Temple said...

Well, they told us that they've dismantled the gang violence task force (not for us but for some other reason) but my understanding is that the police have continued to be vigilant in the clubs. That may or may not be part of the reason the city bought the Drake (or the Drake sold to the city) because we now have one more club closing. We've been told by the manager there that the club will be closing on June 9. Terrible news for BC dancers. :(