On Thursday, dancers came down to Olympia for the first hearing on the bill they helped create — and gave some incredibly powerful testimony.
There's nothing we can say about it that matters more than what dancers themselves said to legislators. Watch their testimony below:
“The most effective way to help my community is to have the change come from the community itself, which is why we want the state know-your-rights trainings. HB 1756 is a means to help us empower ourselves and keep our environment safer.”
“I personally have been physically assaulted and sexually assaulted by customers that come into work, and I’ve witnessed that happening to my friends — other dancers that work there. If we had a panic button, that might deter some people from crossing the line or doing things that we don’t want them to do.”
“I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for sex work. Unfortunately, I also experienced violence and harassment from clients and management. In one situation, I was hired for a private dance by a known predator. I was new to the club, and no one warned me about him. He drugged me and kidnapped me for three days. This situation could have been prevented with a client blacklist or a panic button, both of which are in this bill.”
“Strippers’ rights are women’s rights. It’s so important to regulate this industry right because it’s A) almost exclusively women and B) the largest industry where women make drastically more than men.”
“The advisory committee breaks the cycle of ineffective laws, and the know-your-rights training puts the current and future laws that are supposed to protect us into effect.”
Rachel, Amber, Ash, and Shira aren’t alone. They’re among dozens of dancers who are speaking out about why legislators need to understand that strippers’ rights are workers’ rights, and we need new laws, shaped by workers themselves.
Here’s what some of the other dancers organizing with Working WA have to say about HB 1756:
I started dancing as a homeless youth 15 years ago. While stripping granted me the agency over my life I needed to build a sustainable and safe living for myself, I also faced harassment and abuse from management, security and clients alike. I believe HB 1756 is a step towards granting us some of the safety measures and political power we need in order to be protected as an extremely marginalized intersectional group of mostly women. The more protections and power we have, the less able management is to take advantage of us and the more readily we are able to avoid and deny service to disrespectful or even violent clients.
People with bad intentions understand that a club environment is dark, loud, and there are vulnerable women who carry cash. The lack of adequate security is readily apparent to these individuals, and they are correct in assuming that consequences for their actions are unlikely since clubs are averse to calling the police.
This bill is a jump start to the beginning of making our workspace a safer environment! From personal experience I feel as though this bill will help relieve SOME of our concerns in the strip club. This is an industry that’s very misunderstood and us ladies have worked so hard to get this bill passed.
I have been a dancer at Deja Vu Showgirls for almost 5 years now. Throughout those years I have seen a lack of safety and security. There have been situations when I have had to deal with customers’ harassment by myself, with no one in sight to help if things escalated. HB 1756 will be a good step in the right direction for safety in strip clubs.
Yesterday we had a customer run out after getting multiple dances and not paying, and because we have nothing in place he will be allowed back in. The sooner HB 1756 gets passed, the sooner our environment will be safer.
I love my job, even on days I hate it – something I’m sure almost everyone can relate to. The industry isn’t perfect, though. Many dancers have experiences with going to management after being taken advantage of by a customer, and we all have mixed results. A friend of mine was raped at work one day and went to the manager, who listened, cared that this had happened, and asked her what she wanted to do. She decided she wanted him banned from the club. The manager agreed wholeheartedly. The problem is, staff don’t have a good way of making sure everyone that lets people in the front door has all the information about who is and isn’t allowed to come inside. Less than a month later this customer was seen back inside the club, simply because the staff at the door didn’t know he wasn’t allowed to enter. We need a system to blacklist customers that actually works, no matter who is at the door letting people in.
This bill needs to move forward this year so that issues within our workplace that have long been considered "just part of the job" can be addressed and improved. Anyone who supports workers’ rights will understand why this bill is urgent and long overdue.
Our rights have been overlooked. Dancers are workers and we deserve to have our rights protected and also have standards in our workplace. We need change.
I’ve been working for Déjà Vu for several years. I have witnessed many times when girls needed a panic button. I have also had to be my own security guard, or help other girls. I have seen hundreds of situations where a panic button would have alerted staff and security that there is a problem when needed. We need these changes.
I would have loved to have had a panic button in a dance room I was in when I was assaulted, which would have alerted staff to help me. When I left the room (he physically kept me in the room until the dance was over) I was afraid he wouldn’t pay me (in Washington we are not allowed to collect payment prior to service) if I caused “issue,” so I only spoke to my manager after and nothing could be done.
Our workplace issues have been overlooked for far too long and without legislative change there isn’t much in the way of pushing for change. This bill supports hardworking individuals in being our best selves in our work, which everyone from janitors to drivers to servers to scientists to strippers deserve.
When I was dancing, I wished there was a safety button, or something similar I could have showed customers, to prevent them from “getting any ideas.” I also would have benefitted from training about resources and rights available to me, which I was completely clueless about, and thus vulnerable to abusive management.
Strippers are legal workers deserving of basic labor protections unique to their trade. Not moving this bill forward would show a blatant disregard for the lives and safety of women. Ever since SESTA and FOSTA passed in 2018, the clubs have been flooded with a desperate workforce, making labor conditions worse than ever.
During my time as a dancer, I personally witnessed and experienced sexual assault. I had minimal support to stay safe or report these incidences. It is important to move HB 1756 forward because dancers are workers!! We deserve the same protections as everyone else and we have been failed in this area so far.
I've been dancing for the past nine months and can without hesitation say that dancing saved my life. I was stuck in an abusive household. I needed money and a flexible schedule, something that would cover my last year in college and support my living expenses. Dancing was and is the best solution.
But the voices of dancers are not being heard. It seems as if our current regulations and laws have been made around us and for the comfort and idea of what is right, instead of being built by and for the women it is supposed to benefit and work for. The advisory committee would allow dancers to participate and intersect with their own personal experiences and needs and thus create an environment for us to genuinely be heard.
There is a large amount of stigma and mischaracterization surrounding exotic dancing from some who don’t understand the industry. Well-meaning lawmakers have passed laws such as SESTA/FOSTA that are meant to protect us, but have ultimately caused us and our industry harm because those lawmakers had failed to consult with those of us whom these laws would affect. This is why I am grateful to have the opportunity to support HB 1756, a bill that was crafted as a direct result of outreach and communication between entertainers and legislators.