Who are the traffickers?
Traffickers in strip clubs may be the business owners, shift leaders, fake massage business managers, brothel managers or independent traffickers. Often clubs and bars involved in sex trafficking offer commercial sex through escort services, massage parlors or brothels that are connected to the bar or located nearby. Strip club owners generally consider women to be independent contractors or employees of the escort manager/driving network, not the club, and often require the women to pay a house fee to the club for the space to perform.
Who are the facilitators?
Facilitators of sex trafficking in strip networks are often drivers who transport women to and from clubs and appointment. These drivers and operators typically require fees to be paid for transportation. The drivers may use town cars or large passenger vans to transport victims from club to club or across state lines to new networks.
Other facilitators may include staff in the strip club that employ methods of control over the victims or set up arrangements for commercial sex with customers, vendors who may knowingly or unknowingly provide space, service s or products for the business to maintain the front of a legitimate business, licensing or inspection personnel who are aware of the illegal commercial sex aspect of the business, and sources of advertising for business, such as online websites.
Who are the victims?
Victims of sex trafficking in strip clubs may be women, men or minors, though it is more common for females to be induced into commercial sex in this venue. They may be U.S. citizens, or foreign nationals with valid visas, expired/fraudulent visas or without documentation. There have been connections with stripping networks made to Russian organized crime, who recruit Russian or Eastern European women to come to the United States to work in go-go clubs and strip clubs. Once in the United States, a network of drivers transport the women to and from the clubs where they work and the group houses where they live and pay inflated rent.
Human trafficking spans all victim demographics and the vulnerabilities traffickers exploit are unique and specific to each victim (e.g. a developmental disorder, past child abuse, cultural beliefs). However, the NHTRC sees recurring vulnerabilities among sex trafficking victims in strip clubs. Some examples of these include (and are not limited by):
Immigrant Status: Strip club networks often target victims of a particular cultural or ethnic background, either similar to the demographics of the customer base. Recruiters identify victims from these communities and offer opportunities to move to the United States for better opportunities (typically under false pretenses). Shared cultural background offers traffickers and avenue for building trust and rapport with victims during the recruitment bases and reinforcing control after recruitment.
Prior Debts: Organized crime networks seeking to recruit victims for sex trafficking in strip clubs often target women and girls who have debt or family with debt to the network. Women from overseas are also required to pay huge recruitment and travel fees to recruiters and travel agencies before coming to the United States, and often do so with the expectation the work promised to them will quickly help them recoup the cost of recruitment. However, their debts only grow once they arrive in the United States, as they are required to pay exorbitant housing and transportation fees, along with paying fees to the club, stage managers, bartenders, bouncers and other facilitators.
When does it become trafficking?
Trafficking occurs in strip clubs when traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to force them to engage in commercial sex acts. Common means of control include:
Force: Isolation and restricted mobility; regular and frequent transportation to other clubs or other cities by drivers working for the trafficking network; physical or sexual abuse; forced abortions; lack of medical treatment or reproductive healthcare.
Fraud: False promises of a better life; false promises by a trafficker presenting as a boyfriend.
Coercion: Debt manipulation; threats of harm to the victim or victim’s family; threats to shame the victim by revealing the commercial sex to his or her family and others in the community; threats of deportation and arrest; confiscation of passports and visas; rumors of or witnessed violence at hands of traffickers used as threats.
* An individual under the age of 18 engaged in commercial sex is considered a victim of sex trafficking regardless of the presence of force, fraud or coercion.