Strippers Aren’t Objects. They’re People.

This is a very difficult post for me to write.  It’s been in the making for a number of years, as it is both embarrassing and extremely painful.  I’m in the process of healing, but it’s a long process, and acceptance is part of that.  Accepting that I made some terrible past decisions that are affecting my present life in ways that were highly unexpected at the time.  Many couples visit strip clubs together or use pornography together to enhance their sex lives or spice it up a little.  We don’t.  Ever.  Many men have porn in the house or occasionally go to the club for a bachelor party or look at naked girls on the Internet.  My husband won’t (by his choice, not by my permission).  This post is why.

I keep writing this and then deleting it.  For years, I’ve written it, decided it’s no good and won’t make a difference, and deleted it.  For years I’ve decided it was too painful, and I’ve deleted it.  For years I haven’t healed.  I’ve been a sinking ship.  Now I’m taking my family down with me.  I’m not just hurting me anymore.  It’s time to repair the wounds.

Worthless is a word that I use to describe myself often.  Useless and failure are a couple more of my favorites.  Purposeless.  No good.  Garbage.  I have a very hard time looking at my wonderful life, my beautiful children, my amazing husband, my dream home, and feeling as though I deserve any of it.  I’m positive that at any moment, my family is going to realize what trash I am and it will all be taken from me.  For years, this is what I was told.  For an entire decade of my life.  I still believe it, and I’ve got to stop believing it, because if I don’t, the prophecy will self fulfill.  Not because I’m worthless, but because I’m too damn negative, and ain’t nobody got time for that.

I’m 34 years old.  I’ve been with my husband for 6 years and married for 2.  I have a BA in Political Science from Indiana University, where I won a scholarship for having the highest GPA in the department, graduating with a 3.995.  I raise two boys and a girl, who are amazing little people.  I’m funny, I’m pretty, and I’m smart…and I started sex work when I was 18.  I didn’t find anything wrong with it at the time.  I had monetary goals, and it seemed to be the way to meet those goals as quickly as possible.  I didn’t have any feelings one way or the other about sex or nudity or modesty.  I’d been working other jobs for years, and it just seemed like another job to me, only higher paying.  I was hanging out on the streets of Broad Ripple one day and was approached by some guy offering lots of money under the table, so I took it.

I made one decision on one day of my life when I was 18 years old, and it has ruined my life ever since.  At 18 years old, I made the decision to become an object instead of a person.

I have been a member of quite a few Internets groups over the years, a lot of them full of moms.  Every now and again the discussion of pornography and strip joints comes up.  Whose husband is allowed to go, whose husband isn’t, whose hides it, who goes as a couple, etc.  It always ends in a fight about the definition of infidelity and respect for one’s spouse or significant other.   The camp of “strip clubs destroy marriages” versus the camp of “jealousy destroys marriages”.

I’m in a completely different camp.  The camp of “strip clubs destroy women.”  My reasons for not buying have nothing to do with infidelity.  I’m not a jealous person.  I do not feel disrespected if my husband finds another woman attractive.  We don’t partake of this sort of spice because I absolutely refuse to pump money into an industry that destroys lives.  Not the lives of the PATRONS (via broken marriages) but the lives of the WORKERS.  If you are visiting these establishments or buying these movies or clicking these websites, you are absolutely, 100%, beyond a shadow of a doubt, helping to ruin these women’s lives.  I know that may be hard to hear, but it’s straight from the horse’s mouth.  Insider info.  THE TRUTH.

When you walk into a strip club audition or to a casting for a porn movie or to apply for a job as a “live” model at the jack shack or submit naked pictures of yourself to a number of websites, they verify your age with several pieces of identification to make sure you are a legal adult (to cover their asses with the courts).  What they do NOT verify is that you are mentally stable, have no past history of abuse, or that you’ve been taught what is and is not a healthy sexual relationship.  Why would they?  If they only hired empowered women who ENJOY sex work for the sake of the work, they’d be left with, maybe, 1% of their employees.

I worked all over the country in the sex industry over a decade of my life.  I have met thousands of sex workers, from the girl in the rinky dink strip joint in the middle of nowhere to the high-profile, multi-million dollar porn star.  I believe that out of these women, THOUSANDS of women, I have met MAYBE 2 that had a healthy view of WHY they were doing the work they were doing.  If the stripper you’re talking to tells you how much she loves her job, she’s lying to you.  If you think you’re watching the 1% of workers who enjoy it, you’re lying to yourself.   Porn stars do interviews talking about how wonderful their lives are, how sexy they feel, how much they love to turn YOU on.  THEY.ARE.LYING.  They have a product to sell!  They aren’t going to sell if they go to a magazine and whine about how much of a piece of shit they feel like day after day.  Consumers believe them because it makes them feel better about getting off to these women.  I have sat in hotel rooms with many a high-profile porn star.  All of them have personally told me how much they hate their jobs.  Most of them have gone on about how they hate themselves, as well, and almost all of them were addicts.  I know because I was sitting in their hotel rooms because I was delivering their drugs.

The rest of us are just trying to survive.  The industry counts on women like me.  Down and out, nowhere to go, depressed, abused, told we aren’t worth anything.  Then along comes some guy, and he tells you you’re pretty and can make a ton of money to get out of whatever situation you’re in, except they glamorize the situation you just got yourself into.

So you think to yourself, I can do this, it’s no big deal, it’s just another job.  Only it’s not.  You go for a few shifts, and it’s great!  You make a ton of cash and everyone tells you you’re pretty because you’re the new girl.

Then you aren’t the new girl anymore, and your freshness has worn off.  Some other barely legal, gullible or abused woman has taken your place.  This is when the road to ruin really starts.  This is when every flaw you ever had, and even flaws you didn’t know you had, begin to be pointed out to you, hundreds of times a day.  Men come into the club, and they verbally abuse the women because they want to look at the women, but they don’t want to give them a dollar, so they make up reasons not to.  If they’re mean to the girl, the girl will walk away in a huff, and the dollar will stay in the wallet.  So each day your breasts are too big, your ass is too small, your face is too round, your ribs are showing, you have too many freckles, you have an ugly haircut, your nose is too far to the left, one of your knees is a little higher than the other.  And who cares, right?  You’re just a stupid stripper, and that’s all you’ll ever be.  You’re not even human…

There’s a LOT more to this story, but I’ve reached my pain cap for the evening.

*******

PART 2:  MORE TRUTH

Here’s how the club works.   When you visit for your bachelor party or what have you, this is where your money is going.  Again, this is firsthand experience, NOT some guess from being a patron or what I saw in one club when I went a few times.  This is what I saw in ALL clubs, in all locations, day after day, for years.  Big or small, clean or dirty, the format is the same.  The workers are the same.  Let me repeat, This is the monster YOUR MONEY is feeding if you choose to spend it in this way.  Trust me, you aren’t helping some woman through nursing school, no matter what she tells you when she’s topless and grinding on your lap.

Remember I said above that the recruiters glamorize the industry?  This is how.  They lure a half-broken girl in with promises of big bucks.  Then they (customers, management and coworkers) emotionally break her fully and take most of her money in order to keep her in.  I’ll break this down into two sections: the money structure and the break.

Strip clubs make more money off of their dancers than they do from their patrons.  Cover charges and drinks barely keep these places afloat.  Depending on the club, dancers walk into their shift already $50 to $200 in the hole.  They have to make that money first before they start making anything to feed their children (or their addictions) or pay their rent.  The club charges a house fee from each dancer to “rent” the stage for their shift.  I’ve worked in clubs where the fee is $20 for a weekday afternoon or as much as $100 for a weekend night.  Work a double shift?  Then you’ve got double the fees.  The club also takes a fee for each private dance a dancer does.  Pay a girl $20 for a dance?  She gets only half of it.  The dancer is generally required to “sell” a set number of drinks a night.  If she does not get customers to buy her drinks, she has to pay for the amount she is short out of her pocket at the end of the night.  This fee was generally $5 a drink at the clubs I have worked, so it could be as much as $25 if you weren’t hustling drinks all night (or wanted to stay sober, Heaven forbid.  No one is going to pay $9 for a drink just to have you order a Sprite.)  She then has to tip out the DJ, bartenders, servers and the house mom, if the club has one.  That usually ends up to be around $40.  Can you imagine going to work every morning, and your boss asks you for $200 up front and then tells you, by the way, every hour I’m going to come take 50% of your pay?  Dancers aren’t told this when they are recruited.  Many clubs will waive the fees for the first week for a new dancer in order to keep her around.  New dancers ALWAYS make a lot of money because they are fresh.  So that first week, they’re making a ton of cash and they have no fees.  Hook, line, sinker.

So, you’re a club owner.  You open up some seedy little place and realize that you can make a minimum of $200 (usually more because they are doing dances at $10 a pop for your club, too)  a night per dancer that is in your club.  What’s your best course of action?  The answer is to get as many DANCERS (not customers) into your club as you can, which means hire ANYONE with a photo ID that says they are at least 18.  Your dancers are making you hundreds per, whereas your customers are only paying the cover fee (if there even is one) and a couple of drinks.  Your dancers are your profit, not your customers.  Did you ever wonder why you’ve gone to a club on a Tuesday night and you’re the only customer there, but there are 57 dancers on shift?  This is why.

And now for the break.  When you go into this industry, there are three groups of people whose job it is to break you.  Why?  Because they don’t care about you, and it is in their best interest to make you feel as worthless as possible.

I touched on the customers earlier because it’s the easiest to explain.  The more worthless you feel, the less money they have to spend because you aren’t going to want to stick around wasting your time hustling money from someone who is downright mean to you.  You can be on stage, and you can be naked, and they can see everything they want to see for free, so why would they want to pay you when you come around to get your tips?  It’s easier to just call you names or tell you that your chest is too small.

Management breaks the women for profit, as well.  They know that an emotionally wasted woman will stay put.  If she knows that this is all that she will ever be worth, then she won’t ever try to be worth anything else.  She’ll stay in the industry and continue to generate profit for club owners (while barely scraping by herself).  They break you in several ways.  They take most of your money so that you struggle to pay the bills and have to come back (and pay for) another shift in order to make ends meet.  They verbally abuse you and allow the customers to verbally abuse, and in most cases physically assault, you.  They require you to get customers to buy you drinks, pumping you full of a mind-altering substance in order to lower your inhibitions and increase their chances for profit.  Drunk dancers certainly tip out a lot more than sober ones.  Your safety is at the bottom of their priority list.

Your coworkers will also try to break you.  You are the competition, and they need you out of the way.  Like I said, these girls are already money in the hole walking in the door.  Management has 10 times the number of girls than the number of patrons, and you’re all vying for the $20 that dude has in his pocket.  It is in their best interest to crush you as much as possible.  The lies that they will make up about you and spread to customers (and to other clubs.  The lies WILL follow you) will blow.your.mind.  Dancers also regularly physically assault, verbally abuse and steal from one another.  As I mentioned, most of these women are not mentally stable adults in healthy relationships.

So here you are.  You’ve been in for two weeks and you’re no longer a human, you’re a thing, an ugly, addicted, broke, worthless thing.  The transition was quick.

I’m done for the day.  I’m hoping one more day of writing will finish it, though part 3 will be the most painful, as I have to think about present consequences for past actions.  That’s a doozy.  It’s where I will have to go from “I used to be” to “I am”.  Ouch.

*******

PART 3:  THE MYTHS

In thinking more about this, I think that all of my thoughts on this subject are way too much for a blog and would best be written in book format.  However, that would certainly take even more years, since just the blog took an inordinate amount of time.  There is something that can’t wait, though, and that’s what I’m going to finish this post with.  There are myths that I can debunk, so I’m gonna.

FOR THE PATRONS:

MYTH:  Some clubs are clean.

TRUTH:  There’s no such thing as a “clean” club.   There IS such thing as a clean dancer, but every CLUB is “dirty,” meaning if you’re looking for touching or to meet up afterward for prostitution or for drugs, you can find it in every single club in the country.  High-end or low, you can find it.  The competition that I mentioned above sets the stage for this.  If 30 girls are competing for a couple of hundred bucks, some girls are going to do whatever it takes to be the one to take it.  Management cannot control what the women do when they are no longer on their shift, and it’s almost impossible to catch them in the act.  Customers aren’t going to complain about a girl soliciting, and dancers lie about one another in order to make more money.  Unless management one, hears a girl soliciting with their own ears and two, gives a crap, then nothing will be done.

MYTH:  Touching the girls is ok because you don’t get in trouble for it and all dancers are selling themselves.

TRUTH:  All dancers are NOT selling themselves.  Even in a strip club, when a girl walks by and you smack her in the ass, BY DEFINITION, you’ve sexually assaulted a woman.  When she’s giving you a dance, and you think you’re being sneaky to reach up to touch her breast, you’ve sexually assaulted a woman.  No, management isn’t going to stop you.  No, the police aren’t going to give a damn.   It will, however, eat at the woman, possibly for the rest of her life.  Your unwanted touches will translate into her home life where wanted touches from a loving husband will trigger horrible memories, the same as if she’d been touched against her will outside of the club by a random stranger on the street.

FOR THE DANCERS

Some of these are myths that I’m working on debunking for myself.  I know they are not true, but it’s hard to believe them.  I’m still in the process.  And I know a lot of you are reading this thinking I’m full of crap and that’s ok, too, if you aren’t ready to hear it, but it helps my healing to believe that one day you will.

MYTH:  You can’t get out.

TRUTH:  It’s very difficult to get out, but it can be done.  There are other ways to feed your kids, and there are jobs out there that WILL have you with this background.  Know that all of the people trying to keep you in this industry are doing it for their own benefit, not yours.  It is in THEIR BEST INTERESTS to break you as much as possible to keep you in.   There are organizations out there that will help you get out.  The truth is, the industry is an addiction, and it’s just as hard to quit.  It’s a job where you can come and go as you please, work as much or as little as you want, and make a killing in just a few hours by doing very little work.  It’s hard to leave.  You have to think long term.  If you’re a clean dancer now, is it sustainable?  How about when your looks fade as you age and you become less marketable?  How about when the economy crashes?  Think long term.  As the economy goes down, more and more women look toward the industry for quick cash to survive in this world, and as more of them saturate your club, the economy takes your customers.  That’s more women to compete with and less money to compete for.  If you’ve been in for more than a few weeks, you know that the money isn’t consistent.  You can have three phenomenal shifts and then three months of using all of that money to pay the house night after night where you’ve earned nothing for your bills and paid back all of the money you made to the house.  If you want out, there are places that can help you with your bills and with keeping food on the table while you look for a healthier job.

MYTH:  You’re worth less than other women

TRUTH:  This is ABSOLUTELY FALSE!  They tell you that to keep you in!  They tell you that because they won’t have to pay you as much or because if you feel like crap, then you’re less competition!  They tell you that because then it’s easier to abuse you!  No matter what you do, no matter if you are still in, if you’re in and out, if you’re out; no matter if you’re a clean dancer, a dirty dancer or have never even been a dancer; no matter if you are addicted to a hundred substances or none; if you’re a dancer, a prostitute, a porn star or an attorney, NO WOMAN IS WORTH LESS THAN ANY OTHER WOMAN.  Period.

MYTH:  No one cares about what happens to you, you’ll never be anything to anyone, you deserve the abuse because of what you are, you’ll never deserve a good partner

TRUTH:  I care what happens to you.  If you want a shoulder to cry on (ok, with, because no lie, I’ll cry, too), if you want out and you need help, E-MAIL ME (karbaum@umail.iu.edu).  I will listen to you if you need it, whether you want out or not, I will listen.  No matter what you are doing or where you are, I will listen, and I will not judge you for your actions.  I’m not going to lie or coddle you.  I WILL encourage you to get out.  If you want out, E-MAIL ME!  I WILL HELP YOU FIND THE RESOURCES YOU NEED.  I don’t care if you are in my area or across the world, I will Google the snot out of some resources, and I will help you get out and begin your healing process.

You do not deserve to be treated with anything other than respect.  What you are doing now is not who you are (and even if it is, because I do know that a few of you actually enjoy the work you do, you don’t deserve to be abused).  You do deserve a good partner, and the truth is that you can find one.  I’m not going to hold your hand on this, though.  You likely won’t find one while you’re in.  The industry takes a heavy emotional toll on us day after day after day.  Most of us come home from a night of work and tell ourselves that it will be ok, it’s just another job, we LIKE what we do.  We pretend because if we don’t, if we admit that we’ve just been abused for 8 hours straight and that we choose this life, we’ll chase a bottle of aspirin with a bottle of Jack Daniels.  That kind of emotional hell is not conducive to finding a good partner.  It’s proven that when we decide we are worthless, we seek out partners who feel we are worthless as well, and we sabotage relationships that contradict that.  Also, many of us develop substance addictions in order to deal with the day to day work life, to numb the effects of our choice.  Addiction is not conducive to finding a good partner.

Many women find a good partner and try to change for that person, but that’s a rough path.  Your partner didn’t sign up to be your savior.  He or she isn’t a superhero, and it’s not fair to them to put them on that pedestal.  They’ll break trying to meet the expectations of solving their own problems and feeling responsible for yours.  No one can save you but you.  We are not given good partners to save us, we are given good partners because we save ourselves.  They are a reward for doing what we know we can do when we put our minds to it.  Again, it is NOT EASY.  Recovering from this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and it’s ongoing still, but a good partner will wait for you.

*******

So that’s it for the blog (if not the book).  I welcome shares and comments, though if you’re just going to call me names for my past, then you obviously only read the title.  This blog is only one step in my healing process, and I’ve still got a long way to go, but if you’ve come to tell me I’m a worthless slag, save your fingers.  I don’t believe you.  Also, it’s not a scientific study, obviously.  It’s a personal observation based on my own personal experience.  I certainly don’t think it’s a narrow view, but it’s not one size fits all.

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11 thoughts on “Strippers Aren’t Objects. They’re People.

  1. You are an amazing person and deserve an amazing life. I know this will sound cheesy, but though the last 7 years of IM, IMLM, OIM & OIL I feel like I have watched you grow up and into the person that you are today and I am so proud of you. You should be proud of yourself and what you have become, not ashamed of yourself because of where you came from or how you got there. You got out, overcame the obstacles, found a man that loves you for you, graduated college, took on troubled children and loved them as if you birthed them yourself. You deserve to have a happy life as much as, if not more than, anyone I know.

  2. Your honesty is refreshing and I hope and pray that there are many, many, women who will read this and realize that their lives are worth more than being brutalized and self-defamed on a daily basis. For our Heavenly Father loves all his children, not just the ones who tow the stereotypical perfect Christian line.

  3. Karen,
    Thank you so much for opening yourself up and sharing something so personal. I know that is very hard to do emotionally. I think you are spot on in your observations. I have had several clients who are former/current strippers or prostitutes and have told me similar thing. I praise you for having the courage to get out. That is very hard to do because they suck the life and worth out of you for so long that many times you don’t think you can leave. Thank you for sharing these things with us and being willing to help others have the courage to get help.
    Susy

  4. Thank you for such an honest account Karen. I read your blog. And yes, you nailed it. You are also right about the myth when they say they can’t get out. Untrue. You and I are both living testaments. When you spoke of the competition, that is still something I see between Ex-sex ministries today. That’s why I stay away from all of them. Stay strong and do your own thing. By the way, I didn’t think your blog was bad at all. It was very honest, real and transparent. Keep speaking it. People who are ungracious about your imperfections reveal that they don’t feel forgiven for their own.

  5. I am so thankful that you battled through the lies that your story wouldn’t make a difference. Your words are powerful and poignant – you’ve given voice to an entirely overlooked group of victims. It’s so easy to look at the sex industry and see the impact that it has on men and on marriages. It’s what’s obvious, what’s right in front of us. But no one sees the workers in the industry. We (at least, I) don’t think about the hell and victimization that they endure. So thank you for advocating for them. Your story matters. It is a powerful thing to hear you using your wounding as a weapon. Let me know when that book hits the market – I’ll be first in line.

  6. Wow. Thank you for your courage and for sharing your heart, your experience, and your wisdom. I pray that God uses your openness and honestly to bring many others to healing and restoration.

  7. I don’t agree with all of your opinions, but as a person who started working as an adult entertainer when I was 20, and am now 33, I can say that I have to respect you and give you props for at least having the courage to post what is on your mind. I just think that we all have different paths, different circumstances, and although I can identify with *some* of the feelings that you have, not all of it was true for me. Regardless, it is difficult to talk about adult work with the mainstream world, even though the mainstream world is the world that consumes adult entertainment.

    Anyway, I hope you can respect that I respectfully disagree on some points, but as two people who have seen the industry, I also hope you can appreciate that I offer you wholeheartedly my support and thanks for sharing.

    M

  8. You are the bravest person ever! I wish you continued success on your journey toward healing. You have no idea how big a difference you’re making simply by sharing your story

  9. WOW, Karen!! I wasn’t sure you wrote this as I read it; it is professionally written with such clarity, passion and FULL of wisdom!
    This should be shared, shared, and shared again! I wish more people understood this. I learned a lot myself and have more understanding and compassion for women caught in this trap.
    (I am not surprised that you were able to free yourself. You are incredibly determined, talented and smart. I think telling your story is a must!)

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