Feb 12, 2024 - News

Why Washington's dancers want a "strippers' bill of rights"

Illustration of a woman in high heels standing next to a gavel.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Hundreds of adult dancers are urging the Washington state legislature to adopt a so-called "strippers' bill of rights," which they say would help protect them from customers and club owners alike.

Why it matters: Dancers say they've been assaulted and threatened on the job without adequate security staff there to step in, all while having to pay excessive fees to strip club owners in order to perform.

The big picture: Washington's proposal, if adopted, would enact some of the most wide-reaching state-level protections for adult dancers in the country, according to Strippers Are Workers, a Washington-based group of hundreds of adult performers.

  • The coalition successfully lobbied for a 2019 Washington law that required some safety improvements, such as strip club panic buttons. That 2019 law also formed a work group to suggest regulatory changes, many of which are included in this year's bill.

The latest: The bill, which would impose stricter security measures and limit the fees that strip clubs could charge dancers, passed the state Senate on a 29-20 vote last week and is before the state House.

Details: The measure now before Washington's legislature would require adult entertainment establishments to staff at least one person during business hours whose primary duty is security, something dancers said isn't always happening. It would also:

  • Require clubs to put keypad locks on dressing room doors.
  • Require staff training on ways to prevent sexual harassment and assault, as well as how to de-escalate tense situations.

Zoom in: Businesses could no longer charge "house fees" so high that dancers, who typically work as independent contractors, owe more than they made during the day.

  • Fees couldn't exceed 30% of a dancer's earnings during an eight-hour shift.

What they're saying: "Washington's industry is broken," Madison Zack-Wu, a dancer and campaign manager of Strippers Are Workers, testified before a state Senate committee last month.

  • "It relies on charging dancers high fees and cutting corners on staffing and security for profit."

One former Seattle-area dancer, Eva, told lawmakers she quit the industry after a man got aggressive and refused to pay for three lap dances. He then called his friends over to bully her into letting him leave without paying, she said.

  • "There was no security, I was worried for my safety and I knew at the end of the night I would still have to pay out house fees," said Eva, who requested her last name not be used because of safety and privacy concerns.
  • Eva said she thinks the incident "never would have happened if customer blacklists were actually maintained and followed," or if staff had the training required under the proposed bill.

Between the lines: Part of the measure would open the door to serving alcohol at Washington's strip clubs, which isn't allowed right now.

  • Those restrictions, which don't exist in most states, are one factor that limits Washington club owners' earnings and causes them to charge dancers such high fees, Zack-Wu said.
  • Some lawmakers said last week that they didn't feel comfortable with the alcohol-related changes. "I think this bill needs more work," state Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima) said on the Senate floor.

What's next: The stripper protection bill would still need to pass the state House and be signed by the governor before it could become law.

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