The Maroon

Bourbon Street dancers fight back

Club+workers+march+down+Bourbon+Street+Feb.+1%2C+2018%2C+in+protest+against+recent+NOPD+raids+that+they+say+caused+massive+unemployment+Photo+credit%3A+Mair%C3%A9ad+Siobh%C3%A1n
Club workers march down Bourbon Street Feb. 1, 2018, in protest against recent NOPD raids that they say caused massive unemployment Photo credit: Mairéad Siobhán

Club workers march down Bourbon Street Feb. 1, 2018, in protest against recent NOPD raids that they say caused massive unemployment Photo credit: Mairéad Siobhán

Club workers march down Bourbon Street Feb. 1, 2018, in protest against recent NOPD raids that they say caused massive unemployment Photo credit: Mairéad Siobhán

Mairéad Siobhán

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It has been a month-long fight for Bourbon Street strip club workers, who made it known that the war is not over following the raids, closures and suspensions of eight clubs last month.

A month after the raids that were allegedly linked by law enforcement to a human trafficking operation, no trafficking charges have been brought forward. Instead, clubs have been closed or suspended on charges of prostitution, drug sales and lewd acts – violations of illegal touching or exposed body parts not allowed in clubs.

The Bourbon Alliance of Responsible Entertainers has been protesting the raids and is seeking to raise awareness of the heightened struggles workers in the adult entertainment industry have faced since the raids.

Describing the raids as “unwarranted,” Lee Laurent of the Bourbon Alliance of Responsible Entertainers said the closures have affected workers and their families.

“Countless dancers and nightlife workers in New Orleans lost their livelihoods due to the raids and club closures. That’s food from our children’s mouths, that’s our tuition fees for our future dreams, that’s health care costs, that’s our economic freedom all pulled out from under us. This community is a family, and we are committed to working together to take care of our own,” Laurent said.

Some workers feel that the raids are just the beginning and that the ultimate aim of the city is to shut down all strip clubs.

“The police are trying to shut us down. It’s basically an extortion act. They shut us down for nothing,” David Williams, a club worker, said.

However, the statements made by workers saying that the industry is being targeted for “nothing” are being disputed by the New Orleans Police Department and Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control. Their investigations resulted in over 30 charges of varying severity across the eight clubs that were raided.

“We have no issues with the dancers,” Juana Marine-Lombard, commissioner of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, said at a recent press conference.

“Anyone that is legally dancing in a club that is holding itself out and making the effort to avoid being used with the criminal activity has no problem with Alcohol and Tobacco Control,” Marine-Lombard said.

But Williams still believes the club closures are punishing hundreds of workers for the crimes of a few.

“We have to plead for our jobs. Let us work,” he said.

Three clubs have now permanently closed. The remaining five face periods of suspension and probation after the joint investigation between Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control and the NOPD.

More than 30 instances of solicitation for prostitution and attempted sales of marijuana and cocaine were found. “Lewd acts,” including dancers baring their nipples, simulating sex acts or touching or fondling the genitals of undercover agents were also uncovered during the investigation.

Despite the raids taking place in mid-January, no individual charges of prostitution or lewd acts were brought to the Magistrate Court during January due to delays.

However, trials of individuals in February have since begun and individual charges are “forthcoming” according to an NOPD spokesperson.

Nya Harrison, a dancer at Rick’s Saloon who was working on the night of the raids, said the charges are unfair.

“We cannot touch our own breasts, that is considered illegal here. Girls are facing charges for touching their own breasts or for having pubic hair exposed when they are performing. They label us prostitutes for that,” Harrison said.

Although no workers have been charged with prostitution for the acts Harrison described, workers are facing the “lewd acts” charge, which includes the violations mentioned by Harrison of illegal touching or the exposing of body parts in clubs.

Harrison has worked at five different clubs on Bourbon Street and said New Orleans is her home.

Following the raids, many are out of jobs, but Harrison claims they will not go down without a fight. With the Bourbon Alliance of Responsible Entertainers, Harrison is currently working to end the stigma she believes surrounds the industry and its workers.

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Bourbon Street dancers fight back