amaBhungane
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This is why we write about strip clubs

By Ilham Rawoot

Some readers seem to have gotten the wrong idea about Amabhungane’s coverage of the strip-club industry — coverage that we plan to continue.

Some comments are that I, as the writer, am a prude, that I am against the decriminalisation of prostitution, and that what I am writing about in this regard is nothing new.

I feel an itch to do some explaining.

Strip clubs are fine. Prostitution is fine. They exist for a reason. If men are leaving their wives for strippers, or having threesomes with prostitutes on the insistence of no condoms, then the problem is obviously deeper than these actions, which are merely symptoms for societal disasters.

The issue, however, comes in when prostitution happens in dark cubicles in strip clubs, with no regulation. The same problems that arise with prostitution emerge in strip clubs, where a lack of government regulation is most prominently to the detriment of the sex workers and strippers.

Our government, for some reason, with its groundbreaking Constitution and progressive rhetoric, cannot see that by keeping sex work criminalised, the negative effects are reaching beyond brothels and sidewalk sex workers, and to strip clubs, which are legal institutions.

As with prostitution, extras in strip clubs mean that police are bribed, rape runs rife, diseases spread from clients to their partners back home, and dancers selling sex do not have access to government support. And then there’s tax, or rather, the lack of it.

Strip-club owners detach themselves from any sense of responsibility, arguing that if dancers sell sex or perform extras, they have no idea about it. We’re not stupid, they know what’s going on in their clubs, and if they honestly don’t, they shouldn’t be in the business.

And no, what I’m writing about is not new. But the fact that I’m writing about it is. And that I’m avoiding as hard as possible the sensationalist and voyeuristic coverage that is usually given to this subject matter. Women in this industry are rarely given an honest voice, both legally and socially, and the media is partly to blame for that. Very few publications have looked into what the systems of the industry mean for the dancers, except for when Lolly Jackson is in court for charging a businessman to date a stripper. Noseweek’s excellent piece on human trafficking in strip clubs in 2006 was the last of the good stuff.

In all honesty, I’d rather have my boyfriend or husband looking at me naked instead of random women in a club, but I appreciate that there are others who don’t mind. I think the food at The Grand is fantastic. I think Teazers is a great place to learn how to give your partner a lapdance. I think that if you’re lonely and have the urge to take someone to dinner and pay him or her to have sex with you, as long as it’s on their terms, then you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

But when dancers can’t make money off dancing, because clients expect more, and strippers’ shouts for help can’t be heard or are ignored beyond the locked doors of a cubicle, and worse, no one cares if they ask for help, then surely someone’s got to write something.