“They told me I was going to have to work at a strip club. They forced me to work six days a week for twelve hours a day. I could not refuse to go to work or I would be beaten. I had to hand over all of my money to [them]. I was often yelled at for not making enough money or had a gun put to my face. Every week I handed over around $3,000 to $4,000 to [them]. I was their slave.”
– 'Katya', a trafficking survivor from Ukraine.
Victims of both sex and labor trafficking may be found in hostess clubs and strip clubs in the United States. In situations of sex trafficking, a victim may be forced to provide commercial sex to the club patrons by a pimp, employer, or other controller, in addition to his or her work as a dancer or hostess. In situations of labor trafficking, the victims are forced to dance, serve as hostesses, or sell drinks and/or food. Victims may be U.S. citizens, undocumented immigrants, or foreign nationals with tourist, summer work, or entertainment group visas. Though the victims tend to be adult women, some of these networks may also exploit minors.
A young woman came to the US from Japan shortly before her eighteenth birthday. She had been promised a job as a lifeguard in Vermont, and instead was brought to New Mexico and forced to strip at a night club. On night, she met a young man at the club, and she pleaded for help in leaving. She felt as if she no longer could take the sexual abuse inflicted upon her by her controllers. The controllers confiscated all of her wages that she earned working 14 hours a day, and would not let her leave the premises. The young man called the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), and the information was reported to a local trafficking task force who opened an investigation.
*Based on calls received by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Identifying details have been changed to protect confidentiality.
When does it become trafficking?
Stripping, nude dancing, and hostessing become sex trafficking when the employer uses force, fraud, and/or coercion to compel an adult worker to engage in commercial sex with club patrons. If the escort is under the age of 18, s/he is considered a victim of sex trafficking regardless of the presence of force, fraud or coercion. Situations of individuals being compelled to hostess, serve drinks, or dance in these types of clubs are a type of labor trafficking, if force, fraud, or coercion is used to induce the individuals into performing some form of "labor or services." Common means of control include:
Force – Physical or sexual abuse; restrictions on movement and communication with friends and family; constant surveillance.
Fraud – False promises of a different job; misrepresentation of the working conditions, wages, and immigration benefits of the job; altered or bogus contracts; non-payment, underpayment or confiscation of wages; visa fraud.
Coercion – Exploitation of a foreign national’s unfamiliarity with the language, laws and customs of the US; verbal and psychological abuse; threats of harm to the victim or the victim’s family or friends; threats of deportation; lack of control over a schedule; isolation; confiscation of passports and visas; debt increased through various fees to the club or driving networks.
*The above list is not comprehensive or cumulative. One element of force, fraud or coercion may be present, or many.
Types of Hostess/Strip Club Networks
Russian Stripping Networks – Women from Eastern Europe and/or Russia are frequently recruited to work in strip clubs in the United States. Once in the United States, a network of drivers transports the women to and from the clubs where they work. Club owners generally consider these women independent contractors and employees of the driving network, not the club. The women may be required to pay certain fees to the club, DJ, bouncer, taxi drivers, stage manager, and other parties. The women often must adhere to extensive, pre-determined schedules and are frequently moved between multiple clubs. Commercial sex sometimes takes place in the bathroom, VIP, or lap dance rooms.
Asian Hostess Clubs – Also known as “room salons,” these legitimate businesses are well-connected with fake massage businesses. Clubs may be located in store-fronts, office spaces, and commercial areas. Clandestine advertisements in ethnic local newspapers allow these "closed networks" clubs to cater to Asian male clientele. Food and drink are sold at inflated prices, as women accompany and entertain customers. Commercial sex may take place on- or off-site after hours.
Latino "Cantinas" – Cantinas register and operate as legitimate businesses that have food, drink, dancing and music, largely catering to a male customer base. Labor trafficking occurs when female hostesses are forced through threats and violence to meet certain daily quotas of alcohol sales by encouraging male customers to buy beer at inflated prices. In some situations, sex trafficking may also occur on or off-site. Unlike residential brothels, the hostesses involved with a cantina do not always sleep on site.
Organized Crime – Hostess clubs and strip clubs within specific ethnic networks are often tied to organized crime. Women are frequently told they owe money to the network, and failure to pay will result in harm to them and/or their families.
Immigration Status – Traffickers often use the threat of deportation as well as document confiscation to maintain control of foreign national victims. Some victims enter the U.S. with a fraudulent visa procured through organized crime or a recruiter, leaving them particularly vulnerable to threats of deportation and unlikely to seek help from the police. Additionally, traffickers prey on immigrant workers’ unfamiliarity with the language, laws and customs of the US to further manipulate or exploit them.
In the 2008 study “Deconstructing the Demand for Prostitution ” conducted by the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, 46% of the 113 interviewees had bought sex at strip clubs. 49% of interviewees believed that there were girls under 18 years of age working at strip clubs.