How Las Vegas Strippers Are Fighting Sexual Harassment And Workplace Exploitation

There have been many dehumanizing attitudes — many which sadly still persist — that state if you’re a sex worker, sexual harassment, and even rape don’t factor in your workplace, because after all — the onus of your job is to provide sexual stimulation, right?

The thought that consent isn’t a necessary factor in a sex-oriented workplace and the implication that  if you sell a service at one point you are always open for business, and have no rights to fight against harassment is not only illogical, but innately violent towards the women (and men) in this industry.

Luckily, workers are fighting back not only for the rights to report and sue for harassment, but also to garner the other positive legal benefits of employees.

This past spring, Las Vegas stripper Brandi Campbell got into an elevator during one of her long work-shifts and was physically grabbed by one of her managers, who demanded she explain why she’d been ignoring his endless requests to take her out. During her eight months working for him he routinely touched her inappropriately, and demanded her phone number and personal information as a penance for temporarily leaving her alone.

Campbell sought legal action, intending to sue her manager at Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club. Unfortunately, there were immediate legal specifics working against her. Many employees at strip clubs, particularly in the booming industry of Las Vegas aren’t legally hired as regular employees. They often are paid fully in tips, and receive no benefits, paid time off, and therefore no legal protection. The clubs often classify them as “independent contractors,” and because of this loophole, they are unable to sue for sexual harassment in the workplace, as that’s a right only afforded to employees.

Strippers and sex workers across the country have been fighting for basic employee rights for years. In an overdue but significant marker of progress, Las Vegas workers gained an important win this October when The Supreme Court ruled that Nevada strippers counted as club employees. This meant each of them were due payback for all the minimum wage they previously hadn’t received, as well as employee benefits moving forward — which could immediately turn the tables on the ability to sue and report sexual harassment, a scourge in all industries but concentrated on sex workers.

As the fight for worker’s rights has continued across the country, so have the slow rulings in worker’s favors.  Since 2012, there have been rulings in California, Georgia, New York, and South Carolina that granted dancers worker’s rights and millions of dollars in back pay. There are parallel cases currently pending in Illinois and Pennsylvania, which will hopefully succeed as well.

Unfortunately, clubs in Nevada, and across the board have been fighting back with a vengeance. A recent Nevada Senate Bill SB224 seeks to favor the previous arrangements between clubs and workers, stating that workers only should receive legal employee status if they work under one boss and wear uniforms — this law would technically apply to workers of all professions, but the timing of suggests that it was in direct retaliation to the influx of strippers taking legal action.

Although members of Senate voiced confusion as to the actual point of the SB224 bill, it was passed last June, causing a preemptive eclipse to the October ruling. With these two conflicting rulings in place, what would’ve been an $80 million dollar backlog of wages paid to dancers was cut to $6 million.

Brandi Campbell’s case is now being reconsidered, with a direct conflict between the technicalities of SB224, which would push her backwards and restrip her employee rights. Her attorney says he views SB224 as a limp attempt at fighting the inevitable progress being made in the club industry as more dancers and workers unite and demand to be heard and reimbursed.

Today, December 17th marks International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, a holiday first observed in 2003 in remembrance of the victims of the Green River Killer. Highlighting the often overlooked struggles of sex-workers, today is an important day to extend support to those fighting for rights, and push for future progress and safety.

VICE ]