Through business consultancies, political rallies and poetry readings, sex workers of all stripes have stepped out of the shadows.
“When I got raped,” Jodi S. Doff says plainly, as if talking about a mild bout of stomach flu, “I went to work that afternoon. I’d been kept in the house for six hours and raped and tortured and I just called in late.”
Friends and colleagues of Doff’s had been murdered, kidnapped, beaten, slapped, spit on. This was early ‘80s New York, and these were strippers, “hoochy-coochy gals,” as Doff calls her former self, working the poles at places like Robbie’s Mardi Gras and the Lollipop.
“Really,” she remembers, “you looked at it like it was part of the package: you play with snakes, you’re gonna get bit.”
Doff’s rapist, a pimp who hung out in the club she worked in at the time, came in for a drink hours after he attacked her. She was battered and bruised, he was clinking a cup of ice and liquor. Doff’s bosses simply shrugged, ultimately kicking the guy out of the bar at Doff’s insistence, but welcoming him back two weeks later.
Doff knows now that she needed an exit, but she saw none.
“Had there been some place to go, or someone to talk to, or outreach done, I think it would’ve been a point that I would’ve been ready to hear it,” she says. “But I did not leave at that point. I did not clean up my act.”
Doff counted several friends among the strippers she worked with, but the camaraderie of the job extended only so far beyond the mirrored walls and the besuited men of Midtown. So she continued stripping.
“Looking back with sober eyes,” she says of the superficiality of the job, of the self-preservation that it forced upon young women like herself, “it was the kind of community you make, and the friendships you make, when you’re in a war zone.”