In New Orleans on Wednesday, a group of strip club dancers loudly crashed a press conference scheduled for the Bourbon Street infrastructure redevelopment plan to protest the January raids and subsequent closures of the city’s strip clubs.
The press conference was scheduled to announce progress on Bourbon Street construction projects. Instead, though, the attention went to dancers and their allies who held up signs in the crowd that read, “Why the celebration? Strippers are out of work,” “Hands off our jobs,” and “Strippers are our economy” as part of a protest against recent raids of local clubs. When city officials attempted to speak about infrastructure, protesters drowned out their speeches with chants like, “Their body, their choice,” and “Sex work is real work,” the Gambit reports.
In late-January, raids conducted by the Louisiana state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) and New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) resulted in the liquor license suspension and subsequent indefinite closure of eight clubs, the New Orleans Advocate reports.
According to the the Advocate, the raids were publicized as an effort to curb human trafficking. Eight clubs—Temptations, Stilettos, Hustler’s Barely Legal, Hunk Oasis, Rick’s Sporting Saloon, Dixie Divas, Scores, and Rick’s Cabaret—were shut down after ATC agents found reported finding “multiple instances of prostitution, lewd acts and in some cases illegal drug activity within the clubs."
Dancers and advocates, however, deny that such activity took place in the clubs. In a statement emailed to Broadly, Michelle Rutherford, a lawyer and legal advisor for the Bourbon Alliance of Responsible Entertainers (BARE) said, “Neither the undercover investigation or the raids revealed any instances of trafficking or exploitation of dancers or other women in the clubs.”
Stakes are especially high for club employees because of timing: Mardi Gras season, which the New Orleans Advocate describes as “a particularly busy time for the clubs and the city’s hospitality industry as a whole,” has just begun.
“Certainly NOPD and the ATC are free to do their jobs and keep Bourbon Street safe. But it’s irresponsible to legitimize raids and over enforcement with unproven allegations of sex trafficking,” wrote Rutherford. “The raids have put scores of people out of work, without one arrest of a pimp or trafficker.”
While the ATC and NOPD investigations are still ongoing, no human trafficking arrests have been made, the Advocate reports.
In addition, club workers are alleging through social media and news interviews that ATC and NOPD mistreated them during the raids.
Two dancers interviewed by The Times Picayune after a raid at Rick’s Sporting Saloon said that police used “invasive and unnecessary tactics” to document the club’s employees. Two more dancers interviewed by the paper claim that they and their colleagues were ordered to change in the presence of male police officers.
On Monday, the ATC and NOPD stood behind the club raids, calling them the “first step, but certainly not the last” in the two organization’s continued anti-trafficking initiatives, the Gambit reports. The ATC and NOPD did not immediately respond to requests for further comment from Broadly.
Sable Mongold, a dancer and representative for BARE who attended yesterday’s demonstration, told the Gambit: “Every time a club closes, dancers get displaced. It makes less money to go around... and hurts the most economically vulnerable workers.”
In a statement emailed to Broadly, BARE representative Lyn Archer said, “Neither the ATC nor NOPD was able to clarify why now. Citing club owners and pulling liquor licenses during the heart of carnival season [harms] workers, distressed citizens and visitors and ultimately undermines supposed ‘anti-trafficking efforts.’”
A follow-up march on Bourbon Street protesting the city’s treatment of strip clubs and their employees is scheduled for today at 9 PM.