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A Visit from Captain Save-a-Ho and the God Squad

A Visit from Captain Save-a-Ho and the God Squad:

Welcome to The Tasteful Nude, in which stripper, comedian and writer Kasey Koop gives us a point-blank look at life onstage and backstage in L.A.’s strip club scene. Check back every Thursday afternoon for more.

Every few months, a group of ladies from an organization called Treasures gallops into my club bearing gift bags full of lip gloss, plastic pearl earrings and cards referring us to a website where we can be saved. Plastic, mind you; the most offensive part is that they don’t even think we’re worth sterling silver. Captain Save-A-Ho comes in many forms, from the man who says we’re “too good” to be strippers in a thinly veiled attempt to date us to women trying to rescue us. I couldn’t help but laugh seeing a red-faced dancer shove the gift bag back at one Treasure screaming, “I don’t need your pity; I’m fucking happy!”

Most of us thank these women, because we see their good intentions. But cruising the group’s website, it’s hard to avoid some major potholes.

SUPPLY AND DEMAND
On Treasures’ website, their mission reads:

Treasures is a unique, faith-based outreach and support group for women in the sex industry. Our mission is to reach, restore and equip women in the sex industry and victims of sex trafficking to live healthy, flourishing lives, and train others to do the same across the globe.

While that’s well and good, the site also features a video of ex-sex workers like one woman who states, “If there were no demand, there would be no sex industry. It is completely a supply-and-demand issue and so, as long as people are participating in the demand, there are going to be women who are sexually exploited.” I would amend that by saying so long as the sex industry is demonized and facets of sex work, like prostitution, are illegal, the lack of regulation breeds sexual exploitation. And if Treasures sees demand as the problem, why aren’t they targeting men who solicit sex work and the broken system in which virtually everyone participates? Sex work is not going away. If you really care about sex workers, the solution to protecting us is legalizing and policing sex work. Treating sexual desire like the problem suggests that the women supplying it deserve mistreatment.

The most patronizing statement is one woman in the video declaring, “Our core message to women in the sex industry is that they are loved, valued and purposed. And we really believe that once a woman has a revelation of that, it becomes difficult to live in a way that contradicts that message.” They don’t think strippers could love themselves? Now, it’s taken me a few spins around Self-Help Lane, but I think I’m fantastic. As for being “purposed,” I know my purpose is to free women to express and love themselves however they feel comfortable—including sex work.

THE CRAZY THEORY
The “Get the Facts” section of the website should be called, “Why You’re Fucked Up.” It states:

[W]omen working in the sex industry are faced with higher rates of: drug addictions, sexually transmitted diseases, violent assaults, and mental health problems such as Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder than the general population.

As someone who has experienced the unholy trinity of addiction, abuse and mental illness and emerged sober and stable while working as a stripper, I don’t appreciate the implication that stripping is to blame. My addictions spiraled prior to working in the club; once I got clean, I went from feeling downtrodden by the stigma of my job to freed by dancing.

Treasures also states that “between 66% and 90% of women in the sex industry were sexually abused as children.” Outside of the questionability of this statistic, why include it? The only reason would be to either solicit pity for sex workers (which none of us want) or to propagate the notion that the only way one can do our job is to be deeply warped. If we’re talking sexual assault, I’ve known survivors that include a receptionist, a housewife, a bar manager and a comedian, and that’s the short list. Attributing sex work to sex abuse paints the picture that we’re all disempowered victims. A wiser method of helping women is to teach men to stop attacking us.

THE SIN OF LUST
Because Treasures is religiously affiliated, it’s difficult to overlook their keep-it-in-your-pants bias. The organization states that it assists by leading women toward a deeper relationship with God. My vague, postmodern spiritual beliefs contend that I can share my gifts of dance and sensuality with men in whatever scenario I choose. The website also reads, “We believe that the Church’s willingness to create safe spaces for dialogue about porn and sex addiction is essential to seeing the demand for commercial sex services reduced.” (Again, if the demand is the issue, going after the supply is misdirected.) An alternative is the non-denominational Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, which offers 12-step solutions and support in a Commandment-free setting. Where the church is committed to a God with a specific set of rules, SLAA encourages you to believe in whichever higher power you desire.

Despite their altruistic motives, Treasures falls short in delivering unbiased assistance to sex workers who feel trapped. While many members are ex-sex workers themselves, the website invites others to participate who are aware of their own “brokenness.” I personally felt my most broken depressed and trapped in college and then, a few years later, depressed and trapped waitressing. Dropping off gift bags to customer-service employees might be a better use of resources.

Blaming sexual exploitation on the demand for sex work not only inserts religious prejudice but also contradicts their approach of seeking out the supply of strippers. Denying the agency of all sex workers because you see sexuality as morally incomprehensible turns off the girls who could use the help. The greatest ways to help those of us us who need it is to work toward legalizing and regulating all sex work—and reserving judgments on the industry, which further separates us from civilians. The more we strippers feel looked down upon, the tougher it is to connect with non-sex workers in any capacity.


Find more installments of the Tasteful Nude here.

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