MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

'Keep Your Tyranny Off Our Titties,' Say New Orleans Strippers

In a series of protests, strip club workers and their allies are pushing back against abusive policing.

Dan Faust/TwitterDan Faust/Twitter

Just in time for Mardi Gras, strippers and their allies have been taking to the New Orleans streets to protest recent police operations at French Quarter strip clubs. The investigations and raids, conducted under the pretense of stopping sex trafficking, have led to the temporary shutdown of eight clubs and are seen by many as part of the city's plans for a more gentrified Bourbon Street.

"Fuck the cops and fuck the raids, all we want is to get paid," chanted some protesters last Wednesday, as Mayor Mitch Landrieu and city officials detailed Mardi Gras preparations at a press conference in the background.

The raids—a joint project of the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) and the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control—took place over a 10-day period in January. They were the result of months of undercover operations in late 2017.

New Orleans authorities did not find evidence of underage prostitution or human trafficking, their stated reason for the investigations. The worst they turned up was some dancers offering undercover cops a little more than just a lap dance, and a few instances per club of entertainers baring their breasts or genitals. But this was enough to revoke the businesses' liquor permits, using a law that prohibits alcohol-serving establishments from "permitting any prostitute to frequent the licensed premises or to solicit patrons for prostitution."

As of last Friday, four clubs (Scores, Stilettos, Rick's Sporting Saloon, and Rick's Cabaret) had reached resolutions with the state that would allow them to reopen and serve alcohol again pending a several-week suspension and a $5,000–$7,500 fine. But one club, Temptations, will have its liquor permit permanently revoked. The remaining three are scheduled for hearings this week.

The closures put a lot of dancers and other club employees out of work during the city's biggest tourism season of the year.

@carsieblanton/Twitter@carsieblanton/Twitter

Club workers and their allies showed up during a city press conference on January 31 to protest the closures, which they said will hurt them economically and put more people at risk of violence and exploitation.

"Chants of 'Let us dance!' drowning out the press conference," tweeted one attendee.

The next night, hundreds showed up for a protest that wound through the streets of the French Quarter, chanting things like "Keep your tyranny off our titties" and wielding homemade signs. "You Are Making Us Suffer Not Keeping Us Safe" read one. "I May Strip My Clothes But You Stripped My Rights," said another.

Other slogans included "Stop Fucking With Our Livelihood," "Closing Our Clubs Will Only Exacerbate the Sex Trafficking Problem In Our City," "Decriminalize Sex Work Now," "#BourbonStNotSesameSt," and (my personal favorite) "Twerking Class Hero."

@bare_nola/Twitter@bare_nola/Twitter

"Starting on Bourbon Street near numerous still-shuttered clubs, the protest [ended with a rally] where strippers shared stories of the hardships they've faced without work since the raids and denounced what they said is politically motivated enforcement," reported The New Orleans Advocate. They "questioned why the raids were timed at the start of Carnival and argued that a crackdown on 'vice' in the French Quarter is an attack on the business that fuels the city's tourism industry." And they criticized the city for fighting fake sex trafficking at the clubs when there were plenty of sex workers on the streets who could genuinely use some help.

"While the protest largely focused on the recent raids, it also touched on other issues, including a planned City Planning Commission hearing next week on whether to cap the number of adult businesses in the Quarter, plus a state ban on strippers under the age of 21 that is being challenged in federal court," the Advocate noted.

The City Planning Commission is considering a cap on the number of strip clubs allowed in the French Quarter and ways to reduce the number of existing clubs. Under the proposed motion, drafted by the New Orleans City Council last October, a new strip club could not open in the place of a closing one if there was another strip club on the same block.

The city has justified all this by citing concerns about human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

"The people of New Orleans have been told repeatedly that the months-long investigation and outpouring of law enforcement resources was necessary to uncover widespread sex trafficking in the strip clubs on Bourbon," said Michelle Rutherford, legal adviser for Bourbon Alliance of Responsible Entertainers, in a statement. Yet "neither the undercover investigation nor the raids revealed any instances of trafficking or exploitation of dancers or other women in the clubs."

You wouldn't know that to hear the city authorities talk. NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison cooed last week after the raids about how his department, alcohol regulators, and state police had "worked together over a period of several months to gather intelligence and build strong cases against criminals using these clubs as a hub for illegal activity." City cops are "committed to keeping Bourbon Street and our entire city free of criminal activity," Harrison said.

"Many see strip clubs as a symptom of the city's dark underbelly, a place of exploitation and abuse," wrote dancer Reese Piper in an op-ed on the raids. "But to me, they represent student loan payments, education and freedom. For the hundreds of people working in the clubs, the crackdowns are a threat to our livelihoods and survival."

@ChrisMIgnatius/Twitter@ChrisMIgnatius/Twitter

For all the months of undercover investigation, ample taxpayer-funded trips to the strip club, and the myriad raids, the only actual violations the clubs were cited for include a handful of dancers per club offering to engage in paid sex acts with undercover police and/or engaging in "lewd acts" such as briefly baring their full breasts or caressing a patron's clothed genitals. At a few clubs, dancers also offered to share or sell marijuana and cocaine with undercover officers.

At Hunk Oasis, for instance, two dancers are accused of flashing their genitals at patrons and one dancer sold a small amount of marijuana to an undercover officer.

At Hustler's Barely Legal Club, officers were allegedly solicited for prostitution six times during their month of visits, saw dancers "encouraging the touching of their [clothed] genitals" by customers on two occasions, and saw employees baring their breasts or genitals five times.

At Rick's Cabaret, officers were allegedly solicited for prostitution five times, flashed four times, and offered a bump of cocaine once during their multiple visits.

These are the sorts of things—done discretely by individual actors—that cost these clubs their liquor licenses, weeks of business, and thousands of dollars apiece in fines. (If widescale sex trafficking had shown up, it might be hard to argue that club management knew nothing. But how the heck are they supposed to know whether a dancer briefly bares her breasts to a customer in a private room?)

This all highlights how arbitrary rules like anti-lewdness laws and strip club regulations can be. A dancer can grind on someone's lap legally but crosses a line if her hand brushes over the customer's clothed penis. She may wear the tiniest of bikinis, but must never expose her nipples for even a second. These are silly distinctions to begin with, made even sillier by the fact that New Orleans cops would spend months of undercover operations enforcing them—especially in a neighborhood where curbside flashing for beads and drinks is commonplace.

Photo Credit: @ChrisMIgnatius/Twitter

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    "Twerking Class Hero" is fucking awesome.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    Came to say the same.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    We need a war on sex trafficking to replace the old war on drugs. Because cops need someone to arrest, and arresting real criminals is scary..

  • Liberty Lover||

    Makes sense. Hard to hide a weapon on your naked body!

  • Rebel Scum||

    I fully support the right of women to be scantily clad, or not clad at all.

  • Conchfritters||

    ...such as briefly baring their full breasts

    I don't think I understand this - you can't bare your boobs in a strip club in Nawlins??? What the fucking hell is going on down there? You can walk down Bourbon Street and see hundreds of boobs right out in the open during Mardi Gras, but the pros can't bare their "full breasts" in a club?

  • EscherEnigma||

    The basic theory is that without money being involved, I'm flashing you because I want to flash you, and you're watching me flash you because you want me to flash you.

    If you add in money, then there's the question of whether one or both of us really "wanted" to, or just did it for the dough. And there are some things where Americans consider doing it "for the dough" to be potentially exploitive, especially if it's something to do with our bodies.

    So men-that-aren't-me can donate blood, but they can't sell it. You can donate your organs on your death. Can't sell 'em. You can have sex with another willing partner. But you can't sell sex to that partner. In some jurisdictions, you can gift pot to someone, but you can't sell them pot. In some places a woman can be a surrogate mother for a couple, but only if she isn't materially compensated (but you can make a $20k donation to her kid's college fund). For that matter, there's some things that just aren't allowed to be sold period, but if it's being gifted between family members it can be acceptable (generally these are "antiques" that would be illegal if made new).

    So while I understand the whole "I can give it away, but I can't charge admission?!" scenario, it's (for good or ill) fairly well pedigreed in American law and culture.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    I pay with shiny plastic beads, and the girls accept like it's gold. For one night of the year, at least.

  • BambiB||

    How do you have a strip club where all the girls keep their clothes on?

    The "briefly flashed" titty thing is just confusing. Isn't that what women in strip clubs are SUPPOSED to do?

  • EscherEnigma||

    Never gone to a straight strip-show, so I don't have any hands-on experience.

    But the male revues I've gone to the guys didn't get fully naked, just down to their provocative underwear.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    ample taxpayer-funded trips to the strip club

    If i could force people at gunpoint to pay for me to get lap dances...

    ...i still wouldn't, because i'm not a dirtbag psychopath.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Under the proposed motion, drafted by the New Orleans City Council last October, a new strip club could not open in the place of a closing one if there was another strip club on the same block.

    One sort of gets the impression that the New Orleans City Council has no idea what city they're the council of.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    "Fuck the cops and fuck the raids, all we want is to get paid,"

    While I feel your position, if you know what I mean, this is a bad slogan. People who don't agree with you will tell you to get a real job if you want to get paid. Because they don't view what you do as real work.

  • Wizard4169||

    Fuck them, too. If somebody will voluntarily pay you for it, it's real work.

  • ||

    Because they don't view what you do as real work.

    Which, in their defense, most everybody usually takes their clothes off at least once a day at no charge.

  • EscherEnigma||

    There's a difference between taking off your clothes, and taking off your clothes sexily.

  • BambiB||

    How many people would pay to watch you take your clothes off?

    Probably about as many as would pay to hear me play violin. (I've never even touched a violin.)

    Could there be a skill or inherent attribute of importance?

  • Longtobefree||

    But if you ever do touch a violin, be sure to get continuing affirmative consent - - - -

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I hope more strippers become Libertarians.

  • gormadoc||

    These people probably aren't libertarians. I'm sure most of them are okay with draconian restrictions on other people (labor laws, environmental policies, taxation, etc.), but they are being unfairly oppressed. I'm sure that in a few years they'll be clamoring for stripping licenses and that the unlicensed should be fine and arrested.

  • Árboles de la Barranca||

    More likely, in a few years, intolerant and neo-puritanical SJWs will have all the clubs shut down.

  • Conchfritters||

    I for one support boobs.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    You should support them both, not just one.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Hey, Amazons need support too.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    Yeah, those headquarters aren't going to build themselves tax free now are they?

  • Anomalous||

    I hear ya, bra.

  • Ariki||

    ^ Why i love reason.com

  • Mickey Rat||

    But these places have been the ruin of many a poor boy...

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    Mama said son you're going to fall
    For that common cajun queen

  • albo||

    Think about all those bad butterfly tattoos

  • Cy||

    Here's a movement I can really get behind!

  • Cy||

    I wonder if this is another sign of how bored people have gotten?

    Asshole A: Let's protest war!

    Asshole B: Nah... there really isn't a lot of that going on right now and it's so 2007.

    Asshole A: Let's protest Trump!

    Asshole B: Nope... that's getting old too.

    Asshole A: Let's fuck with some stripper's livelihoods because they're clearly victims that need to be helped!

    Asshole B: By god! I think you've got! That's brilliant! Let's call Bob and get a law drawn up ASAP!

  • EscherEnigma||

    You have interesting views about the overlap between "folks that might protest war and/or Trump" and "cops that would engage in a multi-month sting operation in strip clubs".

    I mean, I'm sure there's some vice cop out there that's anti-war and anti-Trump enough to have seriously considered protesting one or both... mostly because it takes all kinds in this world... but I just don't think the main impetus behind this was from anti-war never-Trumpers.

  • Cy||

    Modern 'feminists' easily fall into the anti-war, never-trumpers and who do they hate most? Women who can make money off their looks.

  • Anomalous||

    Tough titties.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    Need love too

  • ||

    plans for a more gentrified Bourbon Street

    OK, does this mean I pour out the Ten High because it's cheap crap and favor the small batch and single barrel stuff because it's classier Bourbon or ditch the latter for the former because I have no taste and it's cool?

  • BYODB||

    It's a trick question: Bourbon St. can't be gentrified. It's way, way too shitty.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    That's what they used to say about Times Square

  • ||

    'You lost your right to decency when you became a stripper.' I looked at him and was like, 'Every person has the right to decency.'

    Not to side with the officers but, Fuck. No.

    Also, I'm falling out of love with the: put more people at risk of violence and exploitation argument.

    Not that the police don't have something better to do but that these women, if they weren't strippers, would be hookers and rape victims sounds a bit absurd to me. Like they would be conventional clothes-on hostesses, waitresses, and dancers but, you know how it is, girls in those occupations are always being violently exploited. This is how we get Title IX.

    Not that all drunkards hanging out in strip clubs and soliciting hookers are violent criminals but when you act like you aren't or wouldn't be seeking out riskier behavior in the absence of your current occupation and that certain occupations, with known clientele and culture, are just as risky as any other, you're lying to at least one someone. Probably several.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    Not to side with the officers but, Fuck. No.

    Why not?

  • ||

    Why not?

    Aside from the fact that she didn't actually look at him and say that, because the officer didn't walk in with a warrant to seize her decency. Her specific decency and ownership thereof not being in legal dispute, her right is actually an entitlement or positive privilege that she's invoking as some manner of legal defense (to something not exactly contested). Additionally, decency specifically invokes some manner of moral judgement which kinda runs contra to a/the central Voltaire-esque notion of a right.

    A right to contract freely? Sure. Not written into the Constitution, but the officer is clearly fucking with it. You may not approve of my contracts and I may not approve of yours but nobody's getting hurt and we both have the right. Decency? Somebody has to decide what's decent, the officer wasn't really there on charges of indecency, and a right to decency means people have the right to do indecent (however you want to define that) things.

  • Tony||

    Decency is not something fat donut-munching pigs get to define.

  • ||

    Decency is not something fat donut-munching pigs get to define.

    OK, good. Now that you understand that he wasn't defining it, you can understand that her insistence that he reinstate her decency or ceasing the revocation of her decency was entirely misplaced. Which was kinda the officer's (his or hers) point.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    So now you are siding with the officer, who was absolutely not making that point.

  • ||

    So now you are siding with the officer, who was absolutely not making that point.

    Am I supposed to read your mind about having read the officer's mind? Otherwise, the officer didn't arrest her for indecency and the disagreement would be one of personal taste which the officer isn't required or arguably allowed to consider.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    The dancer who declined to be named said police rejected dancers' complaints about their behavior during the raid. "They laughed and said. 'You lost your right to decency when you became a stripper.'"

    She was alleging misconduct by the cops, who responded that strippers don't get to complain. Her retort is that the police are supposed to treat everyone with the same level of respect and professionalism.

    Of course you go into some nerdy legalistic complaint because the word "right" was used, ignoring the plain meaning of her sentiment that is obvious even out of context. She was not discussing the fine points of Rothbardian ethics, she was calling out unequal treatment by officers of the state.

  • ||

    Of course you go into some nerdy legalistic complaint because the word "right" was used, ignoring the plain meaning of her sentiment that is obvious even out of context. She was not discussing the fine points of Rothbardian ethics, she was calling out unequal treatment by officers of the state.

    I'm getting all nerdy because what she insists is a right isn't and establishing it as a right to convict the officer of a crime we could, would be more chaotic and idiotic than the strip club/sex trafficking raids/ban. Are you really going to convict the cop of violating her decency?

  • EscherEnigma||

    Also, I'm falling out of love with the: put more people at risk of violence and exploitation argument.


    Alas, love is a fickle beast.

    But while the honeymoon phase may be over, the argument is still right. If you're worried about harms to the human participants, then legalizing "victimless crimes" is far preferable to prohibition.

  • ||

    This may be the headline of the year.

  • Tony||

    Fuuuuuuck cops. Goddamn.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    I wish I had time to start a prostitution ring, because a particular legal loophole might make it difficult for a prosecutor to send me to jail for financial crimes.

  • Ron||

    What the city doesn't understand is people go there because of the strip clubs and the decadent history not some disnyfied up version of the local culture

  • Agnes||

    I wonder if the clubs could sue them for discriminating their businesses? Especially, if/when they do uncover
    any real sex trafficking. If the amount of sex trafficking is less than or equal to say, rest stops or hotels in New Orleans, I would definitely think putting a bunch of people out of their jobs (even temporarily) purely because it's an obvious, sexy environment would be illegal, especially if there is no more or no less risk than other establishments.

  • libertynorth||

    I wonder how many real crimes go unsolved while the police fuck around arresting peaceful people. I wonder how many breakins, car thefts etc, or way worse go unsolved because theres "not enough resources" for the cops. Time for cut backs.

    I know in my area here in Canada, strip clubs are banned by most cities/towns. Stupid bullshit policies .

  • gormadoc||

    Related to the third picture: Not to say that she should be arrested for stripping, but why isn't the baby's father working and feeding the baby? Her temporarily losing a job should not be an existential crisis for her kid.

  • IndependentTexan||

    The same Nanny State that wants to regulate sex on Bourbon Street also wants to regulate the portion size of your etouffee and the decibel level of the jazz in the clubs. This particular element of the Nanny State decided that citizens of their city could no longer honor Robert E. Lee.

    I love New Orleans, but with its astronomical murder rate you'd think the city leadership would have more pressing priorities than the persecution of nookie.

  • Longtobefree||

    Well, what would you rather do; investigate actual murders, or go to strip clubs on the taxpayer dime?
    I thought so. Me Too.

  • Longtobefree||

    Any enterprising reporter figured out the 'dollars per nipple exposed' cost of the months long investigation?
    And how can a law be written that makes showing of female nipples more illegal than showing male nipples without violating all that equal rights under the law stuff? Especially when it is possible for the, shall we say 'performer', to be identifying as female right up to the point of exposure, then briefly identifying as male, then back to female as soon as that particular body part is once again sheathed?
    How many pockets were picked in those places while the cops were busy 'investigating' ?

  • uunderstand||

    Tyranny and Titties is a great title for a country music album.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    I would like the protest sign that reads "Who is going to feed me now" rewritten as "If my boobs are meant to feed my child, what is?"

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online