Open letter to journalists: middle class strippers – it’s neo-liberalism, stupid

Every six months for the last three years, the press have got hold of research undertaken by Teela Sanders and I on the apparent proliferation of the stripping industry in the UK.

Despite the multiple angles of the research and the findings that we published, there is a fixation with the idea of middle class women taking their clothes off for money. This is despite the fact that we reported high levels of financial exploitation, mixed feelings about the working conditions in clubs and in many cases, declining conditions in the industry and the relationship of labour in this industry to the privatisation of education, declining real wages and a hostile labour market. Clearly the material conditions of women’s working lives do not make for good copy.

See for example:

In response to these repetitive requests for statements and interviews by journalists who inaccurately plagiarise each others stories, leading to dramatic inaccuracies, hyperbole and moral panic, I write this Open Letter:

Dear Journalist,

Thank you for your questions.

With regards to why middle class women work in the industry, of course it is money that shapes their decision, how could it not be in a world of wage labour? The point is that it is not solely money.

Middle class women strip for much the same reasons that working class women strip. Most middle class women who sell their labour in the strip industry do so because the UK is an increasingly precarious place in which to live and to sell your labour. Most do not select dancing as a career over others (though some do), but they may strip in order to purchase the credentials they need from a neo-liberalised education system in order to compete in an increasingly hostile labour market. They sell their labour here, in the short term, to finance long term desires for security in a world in which basic securities are being stripped away, driven by principles that your newspapers often play a large and insidious role in promoting.

Middle class women are selling their labour in the strip industry due to the absence of decent, well-paid part time work in other parts of the labour market. Middle class women are selling their labour in this industry because the UK, and particularly London, is an hourglass economy in which there are high paid, high status jobs at the top and the opposite at the bottom, with little in between. These women are seeking to escape the bottom half of the hourglass and make it into the top, a place increasingly reserved for the existing elite. The flexibility of stripping enables women to generate an income while undertaking a degree, participating in an internship or topping up their other low wage job. Some middle class women strip because these are what jobs are left for you when when the welfare state retreats, middle class or otherwise. These middle class women strip because when real wages fall to their level of a decade previously, nurses and social workers (those overpaid and greedy public sector workers) have to top up their wages in order to survive.

Some middle class women strip because this is the job they have always wanted to do and they enjoy the sexual attention they receive. Many want to resist the oppressive temporality and austere cultural norms attached to the 9-5 job, preferring instead to engage in work that can be experienced, to some degree, as leisure. Many young people like to work in the night-time economy, which transgresses many of the rules of day time work. Some women embrace the sense of community they feel, in contrast to the reactionary politics of the office. Some resist the work ethic that increasingly encourages people to be their job, to work until they collapse at the expense of their health, their families and their social well-being, instead preferring to relegate work to a separate sphere of their life which does not define them or consume all of their time and energy.

It is for all of these reasons that middle class women strip. But, I wonder whether we are asking the right question. The most incisive question, I feel, is not why middle class women are stripping, but why we are so concerned with middle class women stripping? If stripping is to be condemned – which is the subtext of your question – then why can we accept the idea of working class women stripping, but are horrified when the spectre looms for middle class women?

I hope this helps. Do let me know if you have any other questions.



Dr Kate Hardy


Project to Spotlight Sexual Exploitation of Farmworker Women


Residents of 25 states and three other countries will take a stand against the sexual exploitation of farmworker women and other low-wage female immigrant workers in April as part of the “Bandana Project,” a partnership between the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and community groups, universities and other advocacy organizations to raise awareness and educate these women about their rights.The Bandana Project is a national campaign, launched in 2007, that adopted the bandana as a symbol of solidarity to end sexual violence against farmworker women because many use bandanas on the job to cover their faces and bodies in an attempt to ward off unwanted sexual attention that often leads to rape.

The SPLC and its partners will invite members of farmworker communities and others to decorate bandanas that will be displayed in museums, community centers and schools. A complete list of the more than 100 Bandana Project partners and their websites can be found

The exhibits will be displayed in the United States, Canada, and Mexico during the month of April — Sexual Assault Awareness Month. April 8 is the National Day of Action for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but some of the Bandana Project partners have organized events for the entire month.

Sexual exploitation has received little public attention but is well-known to farmworker women, many of whom remain silent about sexual harassment on the job. William R. Tamayo, regional attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in San Francisco, wrote in a 2000 report that “the sexual harassment of farmworker women is a widespread problem.”

“These bandanas offer a message of hope and solidarity for women who often suffer in silence,” said Mónica Ramírez, project director for Esperanza: The Immigrant Women’s Legal Initiative of the SPLC. “It is an opportunity to bring this problem into the light of day by encouraging women to hold their abusers accountable.”

The SPLC and other advocacy groups also will join together to offer educational programs across the nation throughout April to inform farmworker women of their rights and the resources available to help them. The SPLC has produced an informational kit for use during these programs to educate farmworker women on the steps they can take to combat sexual harassment and violence.

In addition, Dolores Huerta, who led farmworkers in the grape strike and boycott of the 1960s with César Chávez and today is the president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, has recorded a public service announcement encouraging farmworker women to speak out.

“No woman should have to sacrifice her dignity and safety in exchange for a paycheck,” Huerta said. “We can stop sexual violence in the workplace. But we must speak up.”

Police deny home arrest to breastfeeding sex worker

Cordoba, Argentina, police violence continues against sex workers as they continue to arrest women working in the city centre. Alongside daily mistreatment, abuse and humiliation last week, Joreglina Nieto, a student at AMMAR’s primary school was arrested and forced to breastfeed her baby inside a police cell.

Instead of providing domiciliary arrest, normally given to Mothers who are pregnant or breastfeeding, Police Station 11 called the Grandmother of the child who had to take the baby to be fed in the cell where Jorgelina had already caught a fever having been unable to feed her child.

Maria Eugenia, General Secretary of AMMAR-Córdoba said ‘this situation in violation of basic human rights, agreements and international treaties which guarantee our liberty and the rights of our children’.  

In response to the ongoing harassment and human rights abuses which persist in all but two provinces in Argentina, AMMAR-Córdoba have requested an audience with the provincial Secretary of Human Rights for the Province of Córdoba, Raúl Sánchez, to attempt to reach an agreement which would protect sex workers rights in the province.

Four minute guide to the Crime and Policing Bill

Birkbeck sex work academic expert, Belinda Brookes Gordon, explains the importance of resistance to the sex work clauses in the Crime and Policing Bill.

Sex Workers Speak Out and Stop the Traffic

Posted on

On 31 March 2009, sex workers and our allies held a successful SPEAK OUT at the Eros Fountain, Piccadilly Circus against criminalisation and for labour rights for everyone who works in the sex industry. At 2.30pm, we took over one of the streets, bringing traffic to a standstill at Piccadilly Circus and unveiled a banner which read ‘SEX WORKERS ARE STOPPING THE TRAFFICK’. Sex workers took direct action today to highlight our opposition to the Policing and Crime Bill. Speakers at the SPEAK OUT included representatives from the x:talk project, English Collective of Prostitutes, Sex Worker Open University, academics and sex worker rights activists from across Europe.

The issue of human trafficking in the sex industry has been used by the Government and those intent on abolishing the sex industry to justify the further criminalisation of the sex industry. The existing criminalisation of sex work effectively excludes workers in the sex industry from the full protection of the law. Increased criminalisation will further exacerbate this exclusion. Trafficked workers, regardless of the industry in which they work, face gross violations of their rights. Women in the sex industry should not be defined by the area in which they work. For more information about trafficking and thePolicing and Crime Bill.

“The Policing and Crime Bill will make it less, not more, safe for us to work, whether as strippers, escorts, working girls, maids or models. It is crucial that sex workers speak out about the current climate in the sex industry of fear, raids, deportation and arrests“ said Ava Caradonna from x:talk.

Ava Caradonna continued, “We also want to highlight the hypocrisy of the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith.  Purchases from our industry can find their way into her expense claims, while at the same time she has been leading the Government’s attack on the sex industry.”

The Policing and Crime Bill has passed through the committee stage following two readings in the House of Commons.  If passed, this Bill will further criminalise people in the sex industry in the UK, whether they work byCHOICE, CIRCUMSTANCE or COERCION. It criminalises clients, increases penalties for soliciting and imposes measures for forced rehabilitation. It is based on a lack of evidence about the sex industry and has been drafted without taking the views of sex workers and their organisations into account.

This event was been called by x:talk in partnership with the Sex Worker Open University.


For more media see:

Sex workers are part of the solution

Argentinian sex worker activist receives standing ovation for speech at World AIDS Conference, Mexico.

Elena Reynaga finishing her speech in Mexico this week

Elena Reynaga finishing her speech in Mexico this week

We don’t want to sew, we don’t want to knit, we don’t want to cook. We want better work conditions.

We want sex work to be recognised as ‘work’.

We want to be free to do, free to make mistakes and free to learn.

Free to decide what we, as sex workers, need.

Free from repression – this is the best way to build an effective response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Sex workers are not the problem; we are part of the solution’

(Elena Reynaga, Mexico, 2008)

Elena’s voice cracked with emotion as she spoke the last few words of the speech that left both her and the 10,000 attendees emotional at the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico this week. Many in the audience cried while the gave her a standing ovation. The moment was tense, as a small group with placards attempted to boycott the speech by the Argentinian sex workers’ rights, but were unable to do so.

While others talked statistics and wore grey suits, Elena Reynaga walked on stage in a pink t-shirt emblazoned with the word ‘Somos Parte de la Solucion’ (We are part of the solution). She began her speech as the first sex worker to speak at a Plenary session in fourteen years at the seventeen year old global conference on AIDS. She ended it having reinforced her position a leading voice on HIV prevention, as a hero of the sex workers’ rights movement and having converted into a public figure in her home Argentina, emblazoned the next morning across all of the most important national newspapers.

Drawing on experiences of sex workers across the world, in India, Cambodia and Africa, as well as in Latin America, she emphasised the important relationship between sex workers’ human rights, poverty and HIV prevalence. In particular, the link between the criminalisation of sex work and the violation of sex workers rights, and its contribution to the prevalency of HIV/AIDS.

“Some may say, sex work is not decent. We reply, indecent are the conditions in which we work”.

Calling for the recognition of sex work as a form of labour equal to any other, Reynaga raised frightening statistics on the consequences of failing to recognise sex work as work. 34 sex workers have been killed in Latin America in the last ten months alone. All with complete impunity. In Bolivia sex workers were public lynched earlier this year and in Congo and Cambodia there is evidence of systematic rape of sex workers by security forces.

In contrast to this disturbing picture of the violation of sex workers rights, Reynaga also outlined the successes of the sex workers rights movement. In particular, the speech critiqued the use of funds around sex work, calling for international donors including the UN, to stop imposing their own agendas and ideologies. Instead she demanded that sex workers be given the autonomy to managing their own funds and resources.

Today, in front of the whole world, we stand and say: we, sex workers, will no longer hang our heads in shame”.

The speech was historic in placing sex workers as agents not only in HIV prevention, but also in defining their own realities and articulating their own needs and desires.

Elena Reynaga is General Secretary of AMMAR, the Female Sex Workers’ Trade Union of Argentina and President of RedTraSex, the Latin American and Caribbean network of sex workers’ organisations.

Las trabajadoras sexuales como agentes de cambio en Argentina

A pesar de la violencia y la marginación, las trabajadoras sexuales en Argentina se destacan en el camino de la prevención de VIH/SIDA.

El 12 de Abril del 2008, Carlos García fue condenado por el crimen de Andrea Rosa Machado en Córdoba, Argentina. La sentencia del caso fue (una decisión) histórica, porque fue la primera vez que una persona resultó condenada por el crimen de una trabajadora sexual en este país de América Latina. El juez lo había absuelto en 2005 durante su primero juicio, debido a ‘falta de evidencia’, a pesar del hecho DE que la policía descubriera el cuerpo de la mujer enterrado debajo del patio de la casa del acusado.

La corrupción en todo el sistema legal y el estigma del trabajo sexual implican que la violencia contra las trabajadoras sexuales raramente se tome en serio. Frecuentemente la violencia comienza con la policía, que obtiene coimas y lleva presas a las mujeres hasta por veintiún días. Cuando Mirta, la hermana de rosa, denunció su desaparición y le comunicó a la policía que sospechaba que había sido asesinada, nadie le escuchó. Fue solo después de que AMMAR adoptara la causa que empezaron a prestar atención al caso.

AMMAR es la Asociación de mujeres meretrices de LA Argentina, Y tiene más de 3800 afiliadas a lo largo del país. AMMAR ofrece clases de empoderamiento, capitación, sensibilización de género, micro-emprendimientos y servicios de salud y educación. Elena Reynaga, la Secretaria General, dice que estas actividades son importantes para ‘sacarle a las compañeras toda la culpa que nos metieron en la cabeza: que eres mala, pecadora, sucia, drogadicta, bueno, todos los descalificativos; es importante trabajar con las compañeras, elevarla y decirle que es tan digna como una ginecóloga, como una socióloga’. Además de programas sociales, educativos y políticos, estas mujeres están revolucionando los enfoques DE LOS PROGRAMAS de prevención de HIV/SIDA.

Las trabajadoras sexuales están mejor posicionadas que la mayoría para entender la importancia del sexo seguro. Pueden acceder a sectores de difícil acceso de la población con un discurso relacionado con la práctica real del sexo. Zulema de AMMAR-Rio Negro describió la experiencia de hablar con un grupo de obreros (que estuvieron) en huelga: ‘al principio estábamos un poco nerviosas –afirma- pero después que los hombres nos hicieran preguntas y nos decían que nunca habían hablado de VIH y que no sabían que eran las ITS, estuvimos tres horas charlando’.

Enfoques como estos, que son directos y sencillos están creando un diálogo más abierto para tratar sobre temas sensibles respecto del sexo, aún en el contexto de una iglesia católica conservadora y poderosa que promueve la abstención como la única forma de protección. Las Trabajadoras sexuales tienen crecimiento práctica. Que puede desarrollar y articular modelos pragmáticos para la negociación del uso de preservativos entre personas de todos los sectores de la sociedad.

AMMAR es una entre otras organizaciones en todas partes del mundo que están transformando no solo la prevención del VIH/SIDA sino también sus realidades como grupo estigmizado y excluido. En Brasil, diversos oficios han citado colaboración con organizaciones de trabajadoras sexuales como clave para lograr la disminución de la cifra de mortalidad A causa del sida en el país. Organizaciones similares desde Costa Rica, Colombia y Perú hasta Camboya, India y Sudáfrica, además de muchas otras en el Estados Unidos y el Oeste de Europa se están organizando por temas vinculados al trabajo sexual y se están convirtiendo en agentes fundamentales en la prevención del HIV/SIDA.

Además de servicios al público en general, AMMAR provee servicios especiales a las trabajadoras sexuales. Con contribuciones estatales y municipales, voluntarias de AMMAR recorren las zonas de trabajo, hablando con mujeres sobre sus derechos, salud y distribuyendo preservativos e información.

En La Plata, AMMAR fundó el Centro de Salud ‘Sandra Cabrera’. Es una iniciativa colectiva junto con la CTA (organización paraguas a la que AMMAR está afiliada) y el Ministerio de Salud de la Provincia de Buenos Aires. Se creó un espacio para las trabajadoras sexuales en donde estas pueden realizar todas las necesidades. De salud, además de otras necesidades personales. Apoyado por fondos del Fondo Global contra SIDA, Tuberculosis y Malaria, el centro atiende a mil mujeres por mes y está abierta también al público en general.

Ahora los gobiernos federales y municipales dependen de las activistas de AMMAR para diseñar e implementar políticas de prevención de HIV/SIDA y otros servicios de salud sexual y reproductiva. Pero este trabajo es peligroso. Todavía hoy la policía detiene mujeres que están trabajando en la calle en la mayoría de las provincias de Argentina. En la provincia de Jujuy, la policía hace blanco de las trabajadoras conocidas como activistas. Casos de delitos relacionados con trabajadoras sexuales raras veces llegan A juicio y la policía ha estado implicada en la muerte de trabajadoras sexuales, incluido el asesinato de Sandra Cabrera, Secretaria General de Rosario, ocurrió el 27 de enero del 2004. A pesar de los riesgos, su trabajo está cambiando la realidad en la lucha contra el VIH/SIDA, y está creando formas de diálogos más abiertos y más creativos. Con (un sentido de) orgullo en su voz, Elena demuestra que la participación en la organización puede cambiar las experiencias personales también, y (como me) cuenta que más allá del estigma, ahora cuando gente la cruza por la calle le dice, ay, yo te vi en la tele, qué valiente que sos, las cosas que decís’.