Adult entertainers seek safer workplace standards

Proposed bill will hold employers accountable for safety of dancers; lawmakers target unsafe establishments for adult entertainers

By Madeline Coats

Washington Newspaper Publishers Association

OLYMPIA — Lawmakers aim to improve the safety and security of adult entertainers in Washington state.

House Bill 1756 is co-sponsored by a group of 10 Democratic representatives and one Republican, Gina Mosbrucker, of Goldendale. The bill was introduced by Rep. Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines).

“There’s not many professions where you have to be walked to your car for safety reasons,” Orwall said at a public hearing Thursday, Feb. 14. She shared a study that found 100 percent of dancers have been assaulted within the club.

The measure requires training for adult entertainers to better understand their rights and responsibilities in order to receive a license by local government. The Department of Labor and Industries must develop training that includes information about working as an employee or independent contractor, and how to report workplace injuries, including sexual abuse and harassment.

Rachel Smith, dancer, explained how working in the industry helped pay for college and save for retirement.

“HB 1756 is a means to help us empower ourselves and keep our environment safer,” she said.

The bill orders adult entertainment establishments to issue panic buttons to dancers either to be worn or located nearby. Customers accused of violence or harassment will be kept on record and banned from an establishment for at least three years, the bill states.

According to HB 1756, entertainers could use a panic button if they believe there to be an ongoing crime, harassment or emergency.

“I personally have been physically and sexually assaulted by customers,” Amber Bergstrom, a self-proclaimed stripper, said.

Panic buttons might deter people from crossing a line, she said. She compared the button to pepper spray, saying it helps to have a tool for protection.

Ashley Hunter, former stripper and current sex worker, said she was drugged and kidnapped for three days by a known predator. It all could have been prevented by a client blacklist or a panic button, she said.

The legislation establishes an adult entertainer advisory committee within the Department of Labor and Industries to assist with the implementation of requirements and training of performers.

According to the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act, an employer has the responsibility to provide a workplace free from hazards. Employers must create an Accident Prevention Program in the case of violence or assault within an establishment.

“Currently, there are very few laws that protect us as dancers, but many laws that unintendedly protect the owners of the clubs,” said Shira Cole, who danced for 11 years.

Cole explained how current laws fail to protect adult entertainers, as they were drafted more than 30 years ago by lawmakers naive to the economics of sex work in the nightclub industry.

“The bill is pushing for a small step into making our conditions safer without unnecessary, counter-effective regulations,” Cole said.