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Inside the secret black market for stripper revenge porn
Strippers are stumbling across photos of themselves secretly taken at work.
Scarlet was just killing time. The 27-year-old Portland exotic dancer was poking around on Instagram one day and decided to search the tag for her main place of business, Mary’s Club, to see what would pop up.
“I came across this picture of a dancer and said ‘Oh, no, someone’s picture is on there.’ I clicked on it, and it was me,” Scarlet (her stage name) told the Daily Dot.
The photo was full frontal. Unaware that her picture was being taken with a cell phone, Scarlet had been in the middle of a vertical split move on the pole while completely nude. Horrified, she rushed into action and reported the photo as a violation of Instagram’s user policies, which ban nudity. She also commented directly on the photo, but says she never got a response. Instagram took the picture down within a couple of hours.
“It’s actually a nicely done picture. I saved it to my computer,” said Scarlet. “But I don’t want it up there for the whole world.”
Scarlet explained that while she is “out” as a stripper to her family and friends, many dancers are not.
“If someone’s not out to their family, they could lose personal relationships,” she said of secret club photos posted online. “People who are dancing to pay outrageous tuition fees and are on their way to being doctors or lawyers or teachers. Their careers could be affected.”
Many people are confused as to why it’s a problem for exotic dancers to be photographed in strip clubs without their consent. If the ladies are dancing on stage naked—or in skimpy outfits, depending on local ordinances—doesn’t that mean they want their picture taken too? Doesn’t a strip club basically count as a public place?
The answer is a strong “no.” Many clubs like Mary’s Club have signs posted at the entrance and at the stage prohibiting photography. That means the guy who snapped a creepshot at the stage while pretending to text a friend was likely breaking two different state laws.
For instance, one of Oregon’s relevant laws bans recording a live performance without the consent of the performer. A second law acts as a peeping tom ban, making it a crime to take any kind of image or recording of a person who is in a “state of nudity” without their consent if they have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
But do strippers have a reasonable expectation of privacy if they are naked on stage in front of a crowd? Usually, yes.
Attorney Carrie Goldberg works with the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative to help victims of nonconsensual pornography. She told the Daily Dot that dancers like Scarlet have legal rights when it comes to customers taking secret pictures of them at work.
“The signs saying ‘no photography’ would be indications that the dancers have a reasonable expectation of privacy,” Goldberg said. “Other facts that would be relevant are the club’s code of conduct for patrons, and the agreement or contract between the dancer and the club. If the dancer didn’t sign a contract, the court would probably look at the standards in the industry and whether most dancers have a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Retired exotic dancer Melonie (not her real name), who worked as a traveling feature performer in US strip clubs but is now living “way south of the border,” told the Daily Dot that pictures and videos of her have appeared online many times.
“In the most extreme case, a strip club stage video of me wound up being broadcast by a foreign TV network without my knowledge or consent,” Melonie said.
“The video… was clearly shot from stage-side. However, I can absolutely swear that no obvious camera or cell phone was being used stage-side on that particular night.”
Melonie suspected the video was shot using some kind of concealed camera. At the time, her attorney told her a civil case might not be successful because the expectation of privacy requirement was so murky. Luckily for Melonie and other dancers who stumble across recordings taken without their consent, the law is beginning to catch up with the reach of the Internet.
Soon, nude dancers in Oregon will have yet another recourse for pressing charges against customers who take creepshots at clubs. The state legislature is set to vote on a bill banning the online distribution of nonconsensual “intimate images,” often referred to as revenge porn. Senate Bill 188, which is currently in the House Committee on Judiciary, protects anyone whose picture is posted online and “whose intimate parts are visible or who is engaged in sexual conduct” and is “harassed, humiliated, or injured by the disclosure” of the image.
Strip club creepshots are different than the usual revenge porn scenario. Most revenge porn consists of selfies or other kinds of photos shot consensually, but then the pics are posted without the subject’s consent. Photos of dancers are taken in secret without any consent or knowledge, and they have a secondary impact of outing someone as a sex worker.
Either way, most revenge porn laws also protect strippers and other sex workers because the focus is on consent. According to Goldberg, 17 states currently have criminal revenge porn laws on the books, and a whopping 20 more have pending legislation.
Melonie expressed concern about new technologies finding their way into strip clubs and empowering creeps with new ways to shoot surreptitiously, as well as technology that makes it easier to stalk a stripper online.
“I would speculate that the greatest worry in regard to clandestine pictures of dancers being posted to the internet is the possible use of facial recognition match software based searches to link the dancer’s online ‘stripper’ images to a driver’s license photo or social media photo,” Melonie said.
In a privacy-conscious industry like stripping, the mixture of secret photography and facial recognition software is a powderkeg. And while strip clubs are just starting to catch up to customers that take cell phone pictures, who knows how they’ll handle innovations like Google’s new camera-enabled contact lenses.
In a privacy-conscious industry like stripping, secret photography is a powder keg.
For now, Goldberg says the first thing creepshot victims should do is work with social media companies to get photos and videos removed. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit all have policies that ban either nudity or nonconsensual intimate photos. All of them have forms for reporting revenge porn.
“Social media companies have an obligation to respond swiftly to a request for removal, and to critically evaluate the violation of user terms by the offenders,” said Goldberg, pointing out that just because strippers consent to dancing nude or erotically, it doesn’t mean they consent to secret photography. “This is still nonconsensual sexual exploitation of women, and it’s most likely illegal and actionable.”
Photo via Corey Ann/Flickr (CC BY ND 2.0)
Mary Emily O'Hara is an LGBTQ reporter. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, NBC Out, Daily Dot, Broadly, Vice, the Daily Beast, the Advocate, Huffington Post, DNAinfo, Al Jazeera, and Portland's Pulitzer Prize-winning newsweekly Willamette Week, among other outlets.