Sex workers have revealed how they’ve been left feeling “violated” and “betrayed” after the Women’s Equality Party covertly filmed dancers inside a legal strip club in an attempt to get the club’s licence revoked.
The Sheffield branch of the political party hired two covert investigators to enter the Spearmint Rhino club and film their encounters with workers inside in February 2019. The footage was later referred to at a licence breach meeting in April in an attempt to get the club’s licence revoked.
Many of the dancers in the club are part of the United Voices of the World union (UVW), which supports and empowers the most vulnerable groups of precarious, low-paid and predominantly migrant workers.
UVW explained to RightsInfo that by filming and holding on to the footage of the dancers, the Women’s Equality Party is “effectively holding our members to ransom”.
“They can release it at any time and destroy not only the dancer’s careers but also their private lives,” said Shiri Shalmy, a spokesperson for UVW.
One sex worker, Lucy, equated the footage to revenge porn and admitted to RightsInfo that she feared what would happen if it went public.
“Privacy is incredibly important to me at work; my family do not know what I do for a living and I do not want this to be made public for this reason, along with many others, due to the unfortunate stigma surrounding stripping and sex work.
“I would worry about future occupations and employers taking issue with it,” Lucy said.
Privacy is incredibly important to me at work; my family do not know what I do for a living and I do not want this to be made public for this reason, along with many others, due to the unfortunate stigma surrounding stripping and sex work.
Lucy, a sex worker
Another worker, who goes by the moniker Sassy Lap Dancer (SLD), has her work life completely under wraps – she doesn’t use social media, and specifically chooses clubs for their security because she is due to graduate and become a lawyer in three years.
“It’s painful to think that you thought you were giving somebody an enjoyable experience when really they were using that 3 minutes to ruin your life and livelihood,” she told RightsInfo.
The Importance Of Privacy
Many sex workers love their work. For Chloe, it gives her freedom of expression, flexibility, empowerment and financial stability.
For SLD, she gets to meet other workers from across the globe, and enables her to study for her law degree while also making money.
But this can come with a price, and often that price is living in stigma.
Sex and work don’t mix well in any industry – just because I am a performer in an erotic sphere doesn’t mean that I am that open in real life.
SLD, a sex worker
Chloe is an anomaly in that she felt she could confide in her family about her line of work, but SLD and Lucy rely on privacy to stop them from feeling outside of society.
“If I worked in a shop I would be surprised to see customers trying to integrate themselves into my life or follow me on social media. If I worked in an office I wouldn’t be able to date my co-workers,” SLD explained.
“Sex and work don’t mix well in any industry – just because I am a performer in an erotic sphere doesn’t mean that I am that open in real life.
“I’m using my dancing to fund law school, and whilst I will be open about my stripping past and dancer activism, I want the information about it to be on my terms.”
What’s The Impact On Sex Workers?
Like many sex workers, Lucy works in the industry to support herself through university. She can’t work her schedule around a “normal” job, but now she feels anxious about going to work in light of the Women’s Equality Party’s actions.
“Their whole operation is making me incredibly nervous and fretful at work,” she said.
The mental health impact is shared by SLD, who said the threat to expose the footage would cause “immediate psychological trauma”, and Chloe, another dancer RightsInfo spoke to.
For Chloe, anti-sex-work campaigns and movements like the one Women’s Equality Party has run, have left her feeling “silenced in society”.
It’s like my voice, opinion and experiences are not valid or important.
Chloe, a sex worker
“It’s like my voice, opinion and experiences are not valid or important. It is a very lonely and isolating feeling,” Chloe said.
As well as poor mental health, Lucy worries that anti-sex-work campaigns will take away her only source of income, forcing her to drop out of university and be unable to afford her home.
“Politics is about representing people, not blackmailing them,” added SLD. “What a political party could do with the footage is limitless in its ability to destruct my future.”
Sex Work Does Not Equal Anti-Women
The way to ensure better working conditions and safety at work is to listen to workers.
Shiri Shalmy, a spokesperson for UVW
Many anti-sex-work campaigns, like the one championed by the Women’s Equality Party, are based on the idea that sex workers are vulnerable and having access to sex can make men more violent.
It is an undeniable fact that many people are exploited into sex work – and it’s a real problem that needs to be tackled – but workers like Lucy, Chloe and SLD, and experts insist that outlawing sex work only drives it further underground, and makes it a riskier and more dangerous industry.
Rather, campaigners believe decriminalisation and regulation are the only way to ensure that women are protected.
“The way to ensure better working conditions and safety at work is to listen to workers. Strippers are best placed to identify the problems, risks and challenges of working in clubs,” explained Shalmy.
“I feel that anti-sex work campaigners should spend less time trying to shut us down, and more time in constructive dialogue to find solutions that make it a better place for all,” added SLD.
The Women’s Equality Party have denied commissioning or conducting an undercover investigation into sexual entertainment venues across Manchester and Sheffield. See their statement here.