OPINION: Sex Trade Survivors Support City’s Proposal to Move Strip Clubs

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Melissa HollandBy Melissa Holland

Six years ago, I started an anti-trafficking organization called Awaken. Over the years Awaken has helped hundreds of local Reno victims out of the sex trade.

Last summer Reno City Council proposed changes to the portions of the Reno Municipal Code related to Adult Businesses (Strip Clubs). The three main points of the ordinance include:

  1. Any Adult Business located within a nonconforming (illegally zoned) location cannot have any alcohol on the property 6 months after the adoption of the ordinance.
  2. No digital signs will be allowed and any existing digital signs must be removed 6 months after adoption of the ordinance.
  3. Any Adult Business that is nonconforming due to its location must relocate to a conforming (legal) location within two years of adoption of the ordinance.

Only one of the Reno adult businesses is legally zoned. The others, as we all know, are right in the midst of our downtown; hardly the welcome banner this city needs. The adult business relocation proposal is not an anti-business proposal. It is a proposal that comes from case law referencing a very specific type of business that generates negative secondary effects on a community. It is these negative secondary effects that make it very important to evaluate the location of these businesses.

Stories of the survivors of the sex trade consistently testify that strip clubs act as a launching pad to sex trafficking. Compiled here are quotes from personal testimonies that each young woman wrote herself. All of these women and children (yes minors) who have shared their stories want to remain anonymous.  They live in a painful reality of the repercussions of being identified by the owners. As a result of the council’s proposal, for the first time these women have felt this community might now be ready to hear their stories.

As you read, please know that these words are the words of women who have worked in Reno strip clubs and were raised in our community. These are our neighbors, our sisters and our daughters.

I first walked into a strip club at the age of 16. I was in foster care and had a one year old to support and was looking for any way to make fast money. I was quickly escorted upstairs to the house mom who had me undress, and provided me with a thong, top and shoes and told me I could pay for them at the end of my shift. When I was presented and introduced to one of the owners of the club, he looked at me and smiled. He said I would be perfect for the guys who loved the young girls.

Strip clubs are no different than the brothels that supposedly can’t operate in Reno. The dancing is just a distraction from everything else that goes on inside. I worked for years at different strip clubs in Reno, and saw more sex acts take place in the private rooms than I saw lap dances. I saw more drug deals go down inside than I’ve ever seen on the streets.

I was offered and provided cocaine by the owners of the clubs more times than I can count. Drugs are everywhere and the owners often put signs up in the bathroom and on the mirrors upstairs that read “ladies; snort the f-ing coke, stop leaving it all over.”

You go into these clubs expecting to not be touched like it is in the movies when in reality these guys can touch you wherever, however they want, until they are satisfied. One would think that the club owners and management would be there to protect the women who are working, but their primary interest is money. Men whose conduct should get them thrown out are able to stay, so long as they give management a large enough bribe.

At least one out of every five shifts I worked, I would get escort job offers through the managers themselves. Men (Johns) would ask the managers for certain girls, and we were told to leave with the Johns at the end of our shift.

Every night women working in the clubs are physically and sexually abused. This isn’t a presumption or a blanket statement. Men touched me when I told them “no,” they held me down, stuck their fingers inside me, bit my breasts to the point of bleeding, and masturbated onto me. I was choked, punched, and thrown to the floor many times. Women are raped, and it’s never reported.

Some of the girls I worked with had pimps that took a majority of their money they made in the club. The strip club is where I met the guy who later trafficked me. I am here to tell you it is not just getting dolled up and dancing for strangers that cannot touch you, it is so much more that leaves lifelong scars. It is not a glamorous place or high-end entertainment. It is money hungry men exploiting broken girls, supporting drug habits, and allowing unthinkable things to go down in the clubs.

Not only are strip clubs not safe for the women, strip clubs foster and encourage additional crime in the community.

The sex trade occurs, not in neat silos, but on a connected continuum looking for vulnerable women and children. Traffickers target locations such as strip clubs. Our downtown should be a safe place for children and families. They should not have to worry about walking on the same street as traffickers and buyers of children.

Downtown Reno is the most accessible location to the 18,679 children in Washoe County who live in poverty; the 2,500 students in Washoe County schools who experience homelessness; the 300 youth that live on the streets or are couch surfing, and the 612 substantiated victims of child abuse and neglect last year alone. It is vitally important to the safety of these at risk populations that we support this proposal and better understand why the location of adult businesses should not be in the same location as vulnerable children.

If Reno City Council votes to keep these strip clubs in these neighborhoods they are responsible for keeping a system that perpetuates and produces more victims than it does services. Until our solutions look into the negative secondary effects of legal forms of sexual exploitation, they will be ineffective and incomplete. Strip clubs are interconnected and inseparable from sex trafficking.

The solution of the Reno sex trade is not able to be simplified down to a one-dimensional solution of just eliminating traffickers. Allowing strip clubs to remain illegally zoned is not just negligent but actually makes us a part of the local sex trade problem.

This issue is not a “those people” issue. There are many things we can do to change this broken system. We all hope you will strongly consider their stories and show your support at the September 13th City Council 6 p.m. meeting to remove these clubs from the downtown area.

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11 Comments

  1. I always love these topics because they are a bit on the taboo side, right?

    Let me offer what I hope is a practical middle ground view to all of this. While there is definitely an issue with sex trafficking, I find it hard to put a strip joint into the category of a business who is doing so. Is the industry less than clean and ethical…yes I do believe it may still be. Having dated a “dancer” in the 80’s, I will say she was a mess and no matter how I tried to save her…she continued to be a mess. However this was not the results of her dancing but rather issues with her upbringing.

    Now lets shift this topic just a little to the real area in which families are being damaged and that is pornography. Not going to judge whether all of it is bad but I want to focus on the segment that has topics that use words like “Mother and Son” “Father and Daughter” “Brother and Sister” and finally “Teen”. This stimuli in my opinion is far more damaging to families and leads to issues that kids have with the safety of their childhood. To me this is closer to the topic of sex trafficking even though it is animals who are stilling innocence from children and only a small percent is caught.

    So Melissa I do support your story but in the same breath I also understand many girls, including my ex, was a willing participant at that time in their life. I am sure she looks back with a slightly different color lens and has perhaps had revisions to her recollection to shed some of her personal responsibility. Its is what we do as we get older, myself included.

    To the club owners and the City of Reno, perhaps Melissa is onto something here. Perhaps a classy area with a more burlesque flare to it could be created in a one or two block area. I mean got knows that the old Holiday Inn and surrounding area off fourth street could use some help.

    One of the things I hated raising kids the year I was in Vegas was all of the Strip Clubs all over the city and believe it is in everyone’s best interest to concentrate them in one area.

    Now how do we go after the free porn who’s very topic promotes molesting children?

  2. As a woman who has worked and lived in the Reno area since 1977 , I am in total agreement and support of the club owners comments. If anything should be on the agenda is why was the homeless complex was put downtown and the homeless and mentally ill who are the dangers downtown. Fix that and a lot of issues will be taken in hand.

  3. My comments would be directed to the “Club Manager”.

    Clearly you don’t know Melissa Holland or anything about Awaken. Extort money . . That’s good one! Unwilling to come to the club to speak to the girls . . Now why would you offer that if they are currently making money for YOU? Hmm . . . I would have to say that your earnest offer of posting the Awaken organization on your digital sign is laughable.

    I believe you need to check your stats regarding sex tracking, club violence, drugs, etc. with the Reno Police Department . . . I’m just saying. 🙄 You might be in for a rude awakening.

    I’ll be praying for you dude, that the Lord would come down on you and remove the scales from your eyes, that HE would soften your heart with His love and show you His ways. That HE would repair your brokenness and your heart to use you for HIS glory instead of evil. It’s never too late to make a change in our lives, especially with God as our Lead.

    For the rest of us . .
    Time to grow some you know what, speak up & especailly pray up!

  4. Dear Reno City Council, Thank you for allowing the community to have an open dialogue in order to challenge this relic of Reno’s reputation and allow the emerging healthy culture to supplant that which would keep us in darkness tied to illegal, immoral and destructive practices toward men, women and the upcoming generations of children and businesses in Reno. It takes courage and it’s an important conversation, and one that must be had with an element of disclosure of what the girls in that industry experience personally and what they are willing to reveal when their livelihood isn’t tied to maintaining the industry. Up until now, it’s a situation of the fox guarding the hen house and telling the public that everything is fine inside.

    Thank you, Melissa for gathering these important stories and giving women the platform to speak at a time when their livelihood isn’t dependent upon maintaining the strip club. When they are free from financial dependence upon the clubs, they are able to reflect on the wonky practices that kept them enslaved to unhealthy and degrading system. It’s important to hear these stories. It’s important to make the mic available to them. Thank you for doing this.

  5. Hiding behind the first amendment ” right to assemble peacefully” freedom of speech. How anyone would allow the infections causing breakdowns of our community’s and our children was never what our four fathers work for…in fact just the opposite and What any woman choice’s is between her and God. We don’t have to suffer mean time.

  6. This article is not only full of half-truths and lies; it misquotes statistical data and twists it to show a side that does not really exist.

    First as the manager of the Wild Orchid we have offered to let Mrs. Holland to come and speak to the girls whenever she had time. We have offered to advertise her organization on our digital sign. Every time these offers have been extended her only response is to give her money for her organization. She does not want to talk to the girls or have her organization advertised alongside other midtown businesses and non-profit charities. She just wants to extort money.

    Second, according to the city maps, no adult business is “legally” zoned. But according to the law, all the clubs are legally zoned since they went through the proper channels and appropriate application processes to receive permits to operate in their current locations. Proof that members of the city planning staff and RPD believe that strip clubs are beneficial to the city can be found by looking at the August 1st, 2012 city planning meeting regarding Ed’s Knockouts where the same people who wrote the proposed regulations said the strip clubs have the same amount or less problems than bars located in nicer neighborhoods. Our crime rate was equal or less than Silver Peak’s downtown location. And we are open many more hours at night when the crime rate is higher.

    Third, when questioned in the past, Mrs. Holland has stated that no girls she has interacted with had come from the Strip Clubs in Reno, but now, when it is convenient, two “unnamed” girls come forward. If there is any truth to their stories, which I doubt since clubs are so tightly regulated, these girls entered into the clubs illegally with fake ID’s and illegally obtained business licenses through the state and city to work in the clubs while the rest of their underaged sisters are walking up and down on fourth street, engaging in unprotected sex with drive by strangers, and are usually beaten regularly—things that never, never, never can happen inside one of the clubs in Reno.

    Fourth, the constitution says you can’t eliminate the clubs, so at best, the City can only entice them to move locations. The several locations proposed by the city council are actually located across the street from schools and all of them are closer to schools and parks than any club is located now. So if the purpose of zoning is to put all the adult businesses in an appropriate place, then downtown in their present locations, near other adult businesses like casinos and bars, since a far better choice than moving them to a suburban venue—and the police can enforce the laws more effectively if the all the adult businesses are concentrated downtown.

    Fifth as reported in the National Human Trafficking Resource Center only 3 cases of sex trafficking in the past 3 years have come out of any strip clubs in Nevada– not just Reno, that is ALL of Nevada. That is a low to zero score compared to other businesses.

    Lastly, as for the secondary effects studies, critics keep citing studies from the 1980’s or earlier and the ones that are more recent come from places that conduct the studies on locations with new strip clubs put into remote locations with little to no police presence. The studies do not cover a club with 2 DECADES of existing data showing little to no violent crimes or sexual assaults as is the case for the Reno clubs. No murders which have occurred in these Reno clubs while there are plenty in other bars and nightclubs in Reno.

    Why are we are the villains here? Is it because we give women a place to exercise their first amendment rights and an opportunity to make more money than other women, even those with college degrees? Do we want to have the government regulate morality? If so, are you prepared someday to accept adopting Sharia law and demanding woman wear barakahs outside the home. The funny thing about all these secondary effects is government tried to ban playing music on the grounds it incited violence. From Elis to heavy metal to today’s most radical musical group, the authorities produced studies showing it disturbed our youth, and incited violence. Sorry, but we don’t live in a country that tells other people what they can read, or hear or see. If we take away the right of a dancer to perform without a top, then we should ban the ballet because the costumes are too revealing, and prevent Madonna from performing because of the gay/ BDSM undertones of her performances.

    No one is forcing anyone to pay the cover charge to go into a strip club, or to pay the “buy in” to work as a performer there? So why should anyone care? Who are we protecting? And why are we letting other people tell us what we can see and do in America?

  7. Top less dancing is protected by the First Amendment. It’s up to club owners to enforce behavior inside their clubs. Requiring relocation of Legally granted business licenses to existing locations of strip clubs could result in strip clubs suing the city.

    • Anybody can sue the city for almost anything. It doesn’t mean the suit would be successful or that it is a viable reason for deterrence from acting. “The State’s interest in preventing harmful secondary effects is not related to the suppression of expression. In trying to control the secondary effects of nude dancing, the ordinance seeks to deter crime and the other deleterious effects caused by the presence of such an establishment in the neighborhood.” ERIE V. PAP’S A.&M. 529 U.S. 277 (2000)

  8. Thank you Melissa for giving us this woman’s story. We all want that sign down and yet we don’t want to hear what is happening inside those white walls. Please keep helping these victims of sex trafficking and thank you for letting us know how to support the women in our city.

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