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Hey Boston Globe, There’s No such thing as “underage strippers”

Alex Powell
February 7, 2021

As survivor of the sex trade industry and a Youth Peer Mentor with Living in Freedom Together (LIFT), I am appalled by the recent article in the Boston Globe. I find the language and intent of this article to be very misleading, and the club’s reopening very alarming.

Let’s be very clear – while “gentlemen’s clubs” may be legally viewed as “legitimate” businesses, they are a significant entry point and gateway into trafficking and exploitation in the sex trade.

At times, it seems this article was attempting to highlight this. The language, meanwhile, downplays the severity and reality of the violence these survivors have experienced in the sex trade industry.

For example, there is no such thing as “underage strippers,” just as there is no such thing as a “child prostitute.” They are commercially sexually exploited children, who are facing incredibly complex violence, fear, and trauma at the hands of a more powerful individual.

The article talks about a “16-year-old runaway… [whose] middle-aged boyfriend had beaten her after her shift dancing,” which minimizes the fact that this 16-year-old was beaten by her probable trafficker. It is also likely that she was missing from care because of her trafficker, not simply on the run because she wanted to be. She was not just on a ‘shift’ – this is not just a ‘job.’ She was exploited.

Similarly, the trafficked 14-yr-old the article refers to was not “performing sex acts in the back” – she was trafficked and raped in the backroom. No one consents to being exploited, and children particularly are unable to consent to this violence.

It is important to use the appropriate language to call trafficking what it is. The reality is this is not a choice for the overwhelming majority of survivors. Many have been recruited and trafficked at a young age. For many survivors, this is where the cycle of trauma starts – research cites the average age of entry into trafficking is 14. For those who aren’t explicitly recruited, the ‘choice’ is driven by the necessity to meet basic needs and/or by substance use disorder. This is still not a choice. This is the byproduct of a lack of other options. All survivors are exploited by buyers who prey upon their vulnerabilities.

To those who may come back at this with the token phrase “sex work is work,” please note that this sentiment generally comes from a very privileged place and ignores the harms and incredible violence of the sex trade. I would also challenge you to consider, if the supply was amply available, would these children have been trafficked into this club? And what is to prevent this from happening again?

The article assures us that the club will be personally monitored and inspected by a former Supreme Court Chief Justice. I think it’s important to highlight that buyers are often privileged white professionals of means – they are lawyers, doctors, businessmen, neighbors, even justices. Operating under the assumption that these inspections are well-intended, how will these inspections help and what are the actual safeguards in place? What’s to stop this trend of trafficking at this club from happening again? What is the club doing to support dancers who want to exit? Will the club refer them to survivor-led organizations or coerce them to stay on to meet their demand?

The mayor cites not having any issues with this new owner. The unfortunate question that comes to mind is have there really been “no issues” or is this new owner good at covering things up?

As a community, we need to critically examine establishments such as this and critically examine the purpose they serve. Unfortunately, we can do all the prevention work in the world, but commercial sexual exploitation will not go away unless we end the demand. We need to disrupt the normalization of purchasing sex and frequenting establishments that are a front for and entry point for exploitation. We need to educate our young men and boys about toxic masculinity and shift the cultural norms to view women and marginalized populations as people rather than objects for pleasure.

I understand it is not generally a reporter’s role to take a stance on an issue. However, language is important when representing the reality of a situation. The article seems to raise concerns about what’s next for the club, while simultaneously minimizing the reality for the mentioned survivors. The article also ends on a note about COVID-19, which seems an abrupt and odd end to the article and an unlikely reality for the club. This is personally not the top of my concerns.

This final comment as well as the tagline feels tongue-in-cheek, but the remainder of the article does not accomplish this. The tagline asks, “Will the third time be the charm?” Third time for what exactly are we examining? Are we rooting for this business to succeed this third time? Are we hoping this third time it will be shut down for good? Based on its track record and the realities of exploitation and the violence of the sex trade, I’m rooting for the latter.

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