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Dancing, stripping, and sex work: A fight for rights

Sex workers demonstrate outside a parlimentary debate in London on the 4th July 2018, to protest discussion of a UK version of FOSTA (A US law that criminalises the advertising of sex work on the internet) and to draw attention to their campaign to fully decriminalise sex work.

By Kiana Hughes

“I became an exotic dancer in the Tampa Bay area two years ago when I came down for college,” said Lindsey Noordsij, University of Tampa senior Biology major. “I ended up living in my car because I didn’t have enough money, and me and my friends were kind of joking about going and being a stripper. It went “haha funny, we should go be strippers”. But, I’m a very literal person, so I went and tried it and made over a grand my first night and so I kept doing it and now I have an apartment.” 

Noordsij’s goals did not stop at an apartment. “As of now I have no student loans for undergrad and in my savings I have approximately $46,000,” said Noordsij. “So, if I can make another $54,000 I can pay off my doctorate as well.” She is planning to go to medical school after her time at UT to pursue a career as a physical therapist.  

Although, Noordsij makes as much money as other respected professions. She believes that sex work in general is undervalued in society. “I’ve done competitive body building. I’m in school for medicine. I’ve lived out of my car. I grew up on a horse farm. I know what hard work and labor is like and working in a nightclub as a dancer, is by far, one of the most challenging things I have ever had to do,” said Noordsij. “It is so hard on your body physically and mentally. No one respects how much real B.S. we have to go through to make ourselves look presentable, to accommodate our customers and to handle people who are completely out of their mind.”

Workers like Noordsij, who rise above the stigmas attached to their profession, are shaping the current movement towards decriminalizing sex work in the U.S. Currently, decriminalization of sex worker bills are being re-introduced in New York state and Washington D.C. Democratic presidential candidates for 2020 such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris have recently publically endorsed decriminalizing sex work. A nationwide poll shows democratic voters support the decriminalization of sex workers by a 3:1 ratio. A New York woman, who is for the decriminalization of sex workers, wins a senate seat against eighth term incumbent after sex-workers rally behind her.  

Moniquikas Sutton, sex-trafficking survivor from Baltimore, Maryland believes that the stigmas that exist are so embedded in society that it will make it that much more difficult to decriminalize sex work. “Even stripping is judged. You don’t get a pay stub as a stripper,” said Sutton. “Nine times out of ten, depending what atmosphere you’re in, you tell them you’re a stripper they’re going to call you a whore. So, if you can’t even be a stripper, how are you going to be a prostitute?”   

Noordsij’s own friends proved that the stigma is still very influential. “I had a couple of girlfriends that kind of kicked me to the curb and didn’t want to be associated with me anymore – and that’s fine. I don’t want to be friends with someone who isn’t willing to support me to survive financially,” said Noordsij. 

During late June, Hillsborough County operated a sex trafficking sting where 85 arrests were made including both prostitutes and pimps. However, only one of the 85 arrests were an alleged trafficker.  

The Sex Worker Solidarity Network, a Tampa based organization fighting for consensual sex workers rights, is currently advocating for repealing Florida initiatives, similar to the sting, which they find harmful against sex workers such as The Bathhouse ordinance in Tampa, Hillsborough county’s Anti-Human Trafficking Ordinance, and Florida’s statewide Solicitation for Prostitution Registry. Sex workers are arguing that they are being wrongfully targeted by laws that claim to be fighting sex trafficking.  

“The reason we put laws and restriction up against prostitution and more intimate forms of sex work is for safety reasons,” said Noordsij. “Such as, the spread of disease, unwanted pregnancies, women feeling like they have no choice.” 

Carmen Musso, Noordsij’s boyfriend, said he doesn’t agree with citizens partaking in sex work illegally. However, from his experience, dating an exotic dancer, he believes people should be able to decide whether or not they partake in sex work. “With everything we do in life, there is always risk. So, the best thing we can do about it, is try to keep it in a monitored environment to try to minimize the negative risks and effects,” said Musso.  

Sutton is worried about the reality of having no protection at all. “Imagine you have been raped. Even though sex work is legal, how many cops are going to take you seriously,” said Sutton. “A pimp will shoot that man. It’s a sense of protection, because even though he is going to f– you up, it won’t be as bad as them.” 

On the other hand, Sutton is worried that the mentality of sex work in the street will be hard to change even if laws do. Sutton explains that there is a fine line between choice and force. “The girl doesn’t usually look at the pimp or john as their pimp,” said Sutton. “They look at them as their daddy or boyfriend. If she’s being treated as a sex worker and not with passion, she’s going to fall for the trap to the one man who does do that.” 

Although Noordsij has achieved major goals of hers and agrees that people should ultimately have the right to choose to do sex work or not, she can’t ignore the potential harm that exists in the industry. “As a dancer even going into work and giving intimate dances to customers I kind of hate it but I feel like I have to do it because of the financial situation I am in. I am a student that doesn’t have the ability to work another job that pays enough money to pay for rent, tuition, and food and car insurance and gas so I feel like I have to do it, but I don’t like doing it … I think it is really natural for women to kind of feel used, so I would worry about the psychological effects of it,” said Noordsij. 

Musso believes that other locations who have already decriminalized sex work, such as the state of Nevada and Amsterdam can function as models for the U.S. sex work policy. “It’s probably going to happen sometime or another because it is around,” said Musso. “We don’t particularly see it all the time, but it is prominent here and definitely in Europe, so it is going to come out eventually like marijuana.”  

A source who asked to remain anonymous, has made money on the side by web camming sexual activity for a few years now. “I enjoy being watched and watching others,” said the anonymous source. “Figured I’d make money while doing it. I do what I do willingly. It’s not always about the money. That’s just a big bonus.” 

“A bikini in the 50’s would’ve been considered crazy to wear in public and now its normal.

Its neither good nor bad. It just is. Humans will always push for the next level. It’s a train that can’t be stopped. Just like the legalization of weed,” said the anonymous source.

Kiana Hughes can be reached at kiana.hughes@spartans.ut.edu

 

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