Tuesday, 14 May 2013

It's one small step for women ....

Today saw the announcement that the Highland Council has granted a licence for a strip club to open in the capital of the highlands, Inverness. As the local MSP, Rhoda Grant was not best impressed by the news and was quoted as saying - “Introducing a lap dancing venue to the city is a step in the wrong direction and a blow to equality and woman’s rights." The Women's Support project weren't exactly hanging out the bunting either, saying - "Lap Dancing is recognised as a form of violence against women, as highlighted in the Scottish Government national approach to– “Safer Lives Changed Lives.”

As a former pole/lap dancer and a survivor of real violence, I strongly oppose the views expressed above.

When I lived in London (and that was a long time ago) I worked for a spell as a lap dancer. I wouldn't say I was particularly good, my talents came into play after the voyeuristic gentleman who had just paid for a private dance would ask me to join him in his booth for a glass of champagne. This was a sure sign that at some point we would negotiate a deal and I would go back to his hotel for a couple of hours. In reality, the club didn't care provided we ensured the men kept buying over priced and horrendous bubbly. Some of the girls who worked at the club however, operated a different strategy entirely.

Touching any of the dancers was strictly prohibited, and any 'gent' who attempted it was ejected, rules were rules. Some dancers used that rule to it's maximum effect and simply danced all night, doing very well on tips and private dances and at the end of the night, they simply packed up and went home. Whether you simply danced the night away or went back to the gent's hotel room, both activities fell under the umbrella of the sex industry. So, is dancing around a pole or going back to a hotel to indulge in paid consensual sex 'violence against women' ?

A long time ago whilst still in Dublin I had a partner, let's call him P. He told me that he imported and exported furniture, which would of course explain his beautiful car and wads of cash. I was later to find out that what he imported could best be described as 'recreational substances', but by then it was too late and I couldn't leave him, quite simply because I was too afraid.

It started with a push, late one night after I had been out with friends for a few drinks and hadn't called him to say I was on my way home. When I eventually did get home, he pushed me with both hands such that I flew backwards and hit the hob of the cooker, bruising and injuring my back. All the colour drained from his face and he burst into tears - 'I'm so sorry, I don't know what came over me and I'll never do it again'. We went to bed in silence, and I vowed then to begin the process of breaking up with him, but it would need to be slowly, and it would need to look like it was the best thing for him in the long run, because as a controller, he never liked to lose.

Fast forward some six weeks and P and I were out for a meal, it was getting late. The waiter was overly friendly as they tend to be when they're looking for a huge tip and made a fawning ceremony over giving me an Irish coffee, saying that phone numbers were part of the required price. I could see the fury building up in P's face and I knew there was going to be trouble. I tried to appease him before we left the restaurant and whilst we were still in public but to no avail, he was cutting me off with one word answers and flatly refused to look me in the eye. We settled the bill and headed out to the car, in public P liked to be seen as a gentleman and so when he leaned in behind me towards the passenger door, I thought he was going to open it in an exaggerated gesture of chivalry. Not quite.

He grabbed my hair at the back of my head and smashed my face down on to the roof of the car with such force that I really thought I was going to lose consciousness. My nose exploded and the blood just seemed surreal to me, like I was looking at the aftermath of someone else's injury. Bundling me into the car, he drove like a lunatic through the streets of Dublin until we reached his flat and he took me out of the car in what looked like a protective gesture, with my head bowed so that none of the neighbours could see what was really happening.

After that began the beatings, and they came regularly - often with no reason that I could determine at all. Full force punches to the face, and as he was right handed, it was my left eye which took the worst of it, yep - the one which hangs a little lower and twitches. Leaving me in such a state was a double plus for a brutal psychopath like P, because not only could he take out all of his angers and frustrations on someone who was terrified of him, he also knew that when I was badly marked I wouldn't leave the apartment, and so he had control, because with abusers, it is ALWAYS about control.

One Friday afternoon, having spent three days in hiding, I ventured out of the apartment to go the bank and pay some bills, head bowed and in large sunglasses. I (quite literally) ran into a local Rathmines Garda, who was only too familiar with P and his notoriety and I suppose, our relationship. "If you don't leave him, he is going to kill you, it's just a matter of time. You do know that, right ?" I knew he was right and so I planned my escape with all the precision of a bank raid. I waited until I knew he was going to be out for at least six hours and caught a cab to Dublin airport, all I knew was I was going to London and after that, I would work it out. It was the longest hour of my life waiting for that flight to be called and I waited for the call, or the hand on my shoulder.

I landed in London Heathrow with 160 Irish punts in my purse and found a cheap hotel near Soho. As green as I was, I thought if you wanted a job in the sex industry in London, then Soho is where you went to, and I found a job that first night in a clip joint, which I didn't know was all about ripping the client off. I didn't want to stay there and hated it, and it can't have gone unnoticed because an older lady, Rosa, came to my rescue. She was Spanish and very kind, in a matronly manner.

"Why you here ? Why you no dance, huh ?"

I tried to explain that I didn't have a clue what I was doing, much less where I was going but she reassured me that she had a room to rent in Willesden Green because her son was in Spain for the summer with his father.

"You come with me".

Well, my options were rather limited and I was about to run out of money, so I did as instructed and the next night, Rosa took me to the first of many 'gentleman's clubs' I was to work in. To this day I remain firmly of the belief that sometimes, people are put in your path for a reason, either to get you out of a tight spot or to teach you something about yourself. Rosa and I are still in touch to this day and I can never thank her enough for what she did.

In that club, I found solidarity and I found camaraderie with the other women. I also found independence and a freedom from fear. I was safe, at last.

In summary, do you still think lap dancing is 'violence against women' ? In my case, it probably saved my life.

LL xx


  1. Powerful piece Laura. Glad you got out of that situation. x

  2. Thanks Wendy. I think it puts me in a strong position when debating the anti's because I'm often accused of being in some kind of affluent bubble. I know what lap dancing is and I know what violence is too, to conflate the two is just nonsense. x

  3. Hi Laura, Wendy’s comment is an understatement. It’s powerful piece in the extreme, and on par with your piece on disable clients. Perhaps the women in the VAW groups should concentrate on the important stuff like domestic violence rather than fixating on lap dancing and sex-work. But I suspect none have ever talked to the dancers or the sex workers, listened to what they say or what changes they would like, or respect their view.

  4. Hi J, thanks as always for your comments. I agree that the time of the VAW groups would be better spent helping those women in real danger and suffering real violence, but then when there are 'morals' and let's be honest - issues of funding to be thought of then sex workers are easier to 'save'.

  5. *whistling innocently while digging small hole 6'x3'x6' *

    Don't suppose you have map co-ordinates for this P? Just making conversation...

    THAT shocked me...I wouldn't have thought you would ever have been caught like that. It really copperfastens the statement:
    There is NO SUCH THING as a "victim mentality"...it is ALL down to the abuser.

    Of course, both sadly and thankfully, women who use the sex industry to meet the HORRENDOUS cost of escaping a violent relationship are easy to find...

    There was a perfectly good women's aid shelter in Rathmines...that could be counted on to be full the only day you were ever going to be able to slip out.

    Don't suppose you remember E? Only way she could get out with all three kids was without even bringing her handbag...no room at the shelter first try...and I couldn't get to her for snow...second try, no room at the shelter again...and...PUH - LEESE...it might take one of those fellas with connections to the alternative pharmaceutical industry SLIGHTLY longer to find a person in the shelter in Rathmines than you or me to get a number from 11811...but not by much...

    If a few clients (you know, they rapist fellas who need to be criminalised?) hadn't swung in with money (it cost A LOT just to relocate them sort the basics) and other tangible support there was NO WAY she would have got out a third time, and if she didn't get out she was not going to be alive much longer.

    Trouble is it is far harder for a lone woman to muster help and support...even from shelters...dunno what it is, but people seem to assume that as long as a person has no kids you can turn them out like a cat and they will be grand...

    Too often, if there was no sex industry to turn to, that just isn't true, is it?

    PS. I can pole dance (a bit) and you DO get bruised black and blue, but that is because it is a crossover between gymnastics and dance...and very, VERY hard to do, not because it is akin to violence.

  6. Well said ! I can think of many instances where the sex industry proved to be a lifeline for many women, and I can also think of several circumstances where clients have come to the rescue too. Not quite what VAW would have you believe though.

  7. Laura - I am very sorry to hear about that very hard time in your life. I am very glad that you escaped it, and thank you for telling us how you did.

    God bless Rosa.

    1. Thanks Jeff. God bless Rosa indeed, if I had run out of money or had to return home, then who knows what would have happened.


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