Washington’s ‘Strippers Bill of Rights’ sets example for protecting adult entertainment workers
Screenshot from local television report

The adult entertainment industry in the U.S. is largely unregulated. While only California and Massachusetts require establishments to treat adult entertainers, explicitly referring here to strippers or dancers, as employees, the majority of the states have no specific regulations on stripping.

This means that most clubs hire dancers as independent contractors, which gives establishments legal space to introduce exploitative business practices in the absence of strong laws protecting adult entertainers’ rights as employees.

Washington state recently passed a bill called the “Strippers Bill of Rights” that addresses a wide range of workplace protection issues concerning those in the adult entertainment business. It is an unprecedented piece of legislation that hopefully will pave the way for similar laws in other U.S. states.

The long-standing moralistic approach and strong stigma surrounding those working in the adult entertainment industry led to unsafe and discriminatory working environments for strippers in the U.S. There is research pointing to the need to reform laws relating to the adult entertainment business, especially sex work, to reduce the harms that criminalization of this line of work causes to those engaged in it. However, policymakers are very slow to react.

There have been a few exceptions, though; for instance, in 2019, Minneapolis passed an ordinance similar to the Washington one, focusing on dancers’ health, safety, and financial concerns based on research conducted by the University of Minnesota. Dancers participating in the study reported strip club environments to be economically exploitative and harmful, including verbal harassment, pressures to perform commercial sex acts, and even sexual harassment and assault by the management and clients.

A severe problem adult entertainers face across the country is having to work as independent contractors in most states, where the law does not require otherwise. Entertainment establishments prefer this setup and often mislead strippers with the illusion of freedom that comes with working as an independent contractor. In reality, this means that clubs do not have to pay them wages, strippers can be made to pay a fee to perform on the premises, called a house fee, and clubs can even use strategies to limit tipping for dancers. Furthermore, dancers do not receive health care or sick leave, can be fired at any time, and are not protected by anti-discrimination laws.

Washington’s “Strippers Bill of Rights” addresses most of these issues and, very importantly, aims to eliminate the sexual harassment and physical and psychological abuse that is regularly committed against adult entertainers.  

The Strippers Bill of Rights

The law was enacted in March 2024 and requires adult entertainment establishments to provide training to their strippers regarding sexual abuse and harassment in the workplace. According to the legislation, establishments must install a panic button in the rooms where the entertainers may be alone with customers so that they can ask for help in case they are assaulted or believe there is a possibility of being hurt.

Establishments are also required to employ at least one security personnel. Additionally, clubs must have a straightforward procedure for handling assaults against entertainers. This includes documenting and reporting the case to the police and keeping a record of customers who have assaulted dancers before and have been banned from entering the establishment. The training module should also contain first aid training, as the possibility of physical injuries is relatively high due to the nature of the work.

Furthermore, the law requires adult entertainment establishments to inform their entertainers about their rights to work as independent contractors or employees and about the various financial aspects of the options. The new legislation aims to eliminate the debt dancers accumulate when they cannot make enough money for any reason to pay their “stage rental or house fees” and limits the amount of such fees.

The enactment of the “Strippers Bill of Rights” in Washington was made possible mainly because of the years-long campaign of adult entertainers’ unions and grassroots community organizations fighting for their recognition as workers. For too long, the victimization narrative regarding adult entertainers, as victims coerced into the industry, contributed to policymakers overlooking their rights as workers. This goes hand in hand with the normalization of sexual harassment committed against strippers seen as “part of the job.”

The power of strippers’ unions

The best way to protect adult entertainers from exploitative and discriminatory business practices, unsafe working environments, and sexual assault at the workplace is to implement regulations and laws informed by their voices and experiences based on their needs.

The case of California’s strippers’ organizations exemplifies that positive change can be achieved by working together and with perseverance. California dancers began organizing after 2019 under the state’s new employment status law, and after more than one year of striking, in 2023, they were allowed to create their union.

While this is a crucial victory, strippers are still negotiating with club owners, who have been opposing the union, the terms of their employment contracts. The legal battle is settled, but the fight for safe working conditions, fair hiring and firing policies, and safety measures continues.

Adult entertainers must be empowered to report any harassment they experience and feel safe during working hours. Their sexual exploitation has to be de-normalized. The topic has been neglected for too long and should be addressed with compassion, good policy-making practices, and the involvement of those affected the most—the adult entertainers themselves.

Hopefully, many more U.S. states will start taking measures to ensure strippers receive proper legal protection against exploitative businesses and the same treatment and respect as any other worker.

As with all op-eds and news-analytical articles published by People’s World, this article reflects the views of its author.

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Liz Hahn
Liz Hahn

Liz Hahn worked as an entertainment industry professional for many years in Hollywood and San Diego, where she developed a good understanding and insight into the industry's different aspects.