Ryann Reflections

A glimpse into the life of one anti-social stripper nerd.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Vancouver Police Department pressure on strip clubs

I doubt I’ve mentioned it before, but for a number of months the Vancouver Police Department in partnership with the Liquor Board has been putting pressure on the local strip clubs. They’ve been in the No5 every single day, including photographing tattoos and scanning license plates on occasion. The Gang Violence Task Force is making regular visits to Brandi’s and The Drake. Private dancing has been shut down at the Cecil. Basically it’s a mess.

I suspect that it’s part of a pre-Olympic clean up mandate, but in a city that professes harm reduction it’s pretty absurd and it’s making my life rather difficult. A group of dancers and industry people have joined together to put pressure on the police to basically back-off and let us work in peace. This is no longer normal police checks. It has become outright harassment. On Wednesday a group of us will be appearing before the Police Board to voice our concerns. This is my letter…

April 15, 2007

To Whom It May Concern:

I understand that very few people understand the day-to-day reality of being a stripper in Vancouver, so maybe I can help illuminate our industry.

Stage dancers are booked through agencies and paid by the bar per show. Keeping entertainers on the stage is a sizeable expense incurred by the clubs each week. When working as a stage dancer income is made on stage. No shows, no pay. Some stage girls sell private dances to subsidize their income, others choose not to. A contract with the bar is made on a weekly basis and the women work Monday to Saturday at that particular bar. Some clubs will have the women do 3 shows per day, others open for lunch and a shift can be up to 8 shows a day with up to 13 hours between first and last show. It’s an extremely time intensive career and every week the dancers are required to change bars, hence the term “working the circuit”. Working on stage does not allow for flexibility or personal time. It’s often a 12 hour day, a 6-days-a-week-travel-on-Sunday kind of job.

Very few women have the flexibility to travel out of town for weeks at a time, thereby leaving their families and other responsibilities. Yet there are currently only five strip clubs operating in Vancouver: Cecil, Penthouse, Drake, No5, and Brandi’s.

Working exclusively on stage generally requires a lot of traveling and weeks away from home. A lot of women in Vancouver choose to work as VIP girls selling private dances instead. The advantage of VIP work is stability and being able to have a “home bar”. VIP girls sleep in their own bed at night, are able to set their own hours, and work around their study schedules and personal and family obligations.

Recently dancing in Vancouver has become somewhat of a challenge.

I’ve danced in over 50 different strip clubs across Canada but Vancouver is home. I’ve been lucky in that I have had the freedom to travel, so when Vancouver clubs aren’t doing well I’m able to leave town. But with school coming up in September I’m extremely concerned that I won’t be able to make a living and go to school. I’m worried that I may be forced to sacrifice my education in order to make a living. I won’t be able to work the regular stage shifts while in school. I won’t be able to leave town, nor will I be able to work 6 days a week and still maintain my GPA. Come September I’ll be working as a VIP girl, and the way things are right now- that worries me.

Exotic dancing is a legal profession within Canada. Whether certain groups feel it is immoral is irrelevant. Women are going to dance, to feed their children, to further their education, to travel and explore, to finance their life. Whatever personal reasons lead an individual into this industry it is lawful, although marginalized.

Exploitation is a very real problem in our world. There are many circumstances, in many countries that can lead to the sexual exploitation of women. Women forced into prostitution, women finding themselves in a foreign country without support. History is full of stories of lost or forgotten women coming to harm. In Vancouver we need only look as far as the tragedy ensued at the pig farm to see what can happen when very real people fall between the cracks.

Pretending something does not exist will not make it go away. Only through awareness and openness can an issue be addressed. There will always be industries and fragments of society that do not meet the approval of mainstream expectations or comfort zones. However, the persons within it are valuable human beings deserving of fair treatment and dignity.

If the goal is to decrease the amount of women sexually exploited within Canada, then the women in question must have full access to their rights. The following is taken from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 23.

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Without lawful protection of these rights, there is no way to monitor or protect them. Without the safeguard of authorized employment there is no way to shelter the women in question from the potential exploitation. Blinders will not stop an industry. Unawareness will not stop women from working within the Exotic Entertainment Industry. These women are daughters, sisters, mothers, and friends. Those persons within an environment or industry that is often hidden from the mainstream require extra attention and consideration. Everyone deserves a voice and avenue through which to seek protection of their rights.

The reality is that I no longer feel safe in the Vancouver strip clubs. The employees at the bars are excellent, and take good care of the women working in their establishment. I love my job, but I don’t feel safe because of the Vancouver Police Department. The police have been into every single bar I’ve worked in the past few months.

I feel targeted, judged, criminalized, and condemned. I feel it’s very unprofessional for the police to come into the bar and watch my stage show. It makes me uncomfortable and their attitude has made it very clear that they are NOT there to protect me.

I’m afraid to sell private dances for fear of being trapped by undercover officers, or barged in on by patrolling police. I don’t feel safe. No one feels comfortable in a strip club when police officers are staring at them accusingly. We need our patrons in the bar enjoying the entertainment and buying drinks in order to pay dancers to be on stage. Our customers don’t deserve to be harassed nor have their tattoos photographed while enjoying a beer after work. The deliberate attempts to drive customers out of the bar are affecting my income and as a result I’m not making enough in Vancouver to save for school.

I have the right to work with dignity in the career I choose. Leering officers walking into change rooms and VIP rooms does not protect my dignity. The police presence is disturbing and degrading and deliberately trying to force my unemployment.

I have a Bachelor of Arts Degree and I’m intending on doing a Masters Degree at UBC. I’m still carrying student loan debt from my undergrad and without dancing I will not be able to finance the remainder of my education.

All I ask is that my dignity and my career be respected by the police officers in the city of Vancouver. I am not a criminal, and I should not be made to feel degraded or like a lesser human being for selling a private dance or getting naked for a living. All I ask is for the right to go work in a safe environment without fearing personal and financial repercussions inflicted by the police.


Ryann Rain.
Exotic Dancer. Vancouver.



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