By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
"The Late Night Coalition believes in civil liberties and the rights of adults to choose their entertainment. If the DA feels the evidence in these cases does not rise to the level of a prosecutable offense, then that activity is supported by the LNC.
"This is, after all, the milieu that has made San Francisco what it is for over 100 years."
Nancy Banks is the main organizer of a group of dancers alternately known as Success to Retire Into Prosperity (STRIP) and the Strippers Society of San Francisco (SSSF) -- a group that claims to be "the real voice of current active dancers in San Francisco," one of whose main purposes is "to stop Daisy Anarchy." Banks says her group has more than 100 members from most of the strip and lap-dancing clubs in the city. In addition to providing a forum for dancers to discuss work issues and counter Anarchy politically, Banks says, group meetings have brought speakers to talk to dancers about investment options, real estate, 401(k) retirement plans, group health insurance, and child-care arrangements responsive to the unusual schedule needs and social stigma attached to working as a stripper.
"I've seen lots of beautiful girls come into the industry and not utilize the money they make to have a powerful position in their lives, and so end up feeling defeated. As sex workers you have so many stigmas attached to you that you don't feel like you are capable of doing good things with your money. We want to work with dancers to effectively use what we do every day for our future."
Banks says that conditions have changed since 1996, that hostility between managers and dancers is "history," and that most dancers who currently work in clubs with private booths accept the sexual nature of work in those clubs and the stage fees. She feels the fees are legitimate, given the benefits that clubs provide dancers -- both those who do sex work and those who do not.
"We're not on the streets," she says. "The managers run the clubs, make sure we have customers. We're provided with an enclosed area, private booths, a safe work environment, security guards, panic buttons, and managers who are willing to work with us on areas of disagreement." She says current managers generally support and cooperate with dancers, settle disagreements between customers and dancers in a businesslike way, and are conscious of dancers' economic issues -- scheduling limited numbers of dancers during slow daytime work shifts, for example.
Banks denies there is physical danger for dancers in private booths. "It's not like being in a hotel room with doors and locks. We have panic buttons that light up in the manager's office when we push them. One time, I hit the panic button by mistake, and within seconds there were four security guards and a manager at my booth to find out what was wrong. Once guys are in the private rooms, they're in our space, our office. If we're not comfortable with something, we just walk out of the room."
Since the recent police raids, Banks has met with Kamala Harris and with representatives of the City Attorney's Office, the Police Department, and the Department of Building Inspection. It was a meeting set up by the District Attorney's Office, says DA spokeswoman Debbie Mesloh. Banks says Harris was respectful of dancers' concerns and invited input from dancers on conditions in the clubs.
Harris has also met with Daisy Anarchy, according to Mesloh. A meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women to hear testimony from dancers and others "regarding labor and safety conditions of exotic dancers in San Francisco" is scheduled for Sept. 22.
"One of the top priorities for Kamala when she took office was the exploitation of women," says Mesloh. "Is she going to prosecute sex between consenting adults in the clubs? No. But if there's exploitation in the clubs, she wants to address it. She also wants to place the issue of prostitution in context, addressing not just the prostitutes, but also johns, pimps, and club owners."
Two issues that remain unaddressed by both police and the District Attorney's Office are the continued collection of illegal stage fees by virtually all strip and lap-dancing clubs in the city, and the failure of the clubs to pay dancers wages, despite repeated rulings by the San Francisco Labor Commission, San Francisco Superior Court, and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requiring such pay.
Mesloh acknowledges the illegality of the current situation, which she says is under review by the district attorney. In the meantime, she says, dancers have the option of bringing civil suits or class-action suits against the clubs.
While dancers who bring suit for back wages and stage fees almost always win their cases, few dancers take the clubs to court. The main reason for this involves the acute social stigma associated with stripping, lap dancing, or any form of sex-related work.
Gennifer Hirano, who holds what she calls a "moderate stripper perspective," feels that police intervention in lap-dancing clubs is wrong, no matter how much sexual activity is going on. "I was horrified that women were arrested for prostitution at the clubs," she says. "It always feels like an invasion when institutionalized authority is brought in."