Recent raids on New Orleans strip clubs might strike many as a cause to rejoice, but for those who work there, the police actions create an economic hardship.

Eight clubs were raided as part of a sweep targeting the adult entertainment industry. Two clubs shut down for good, while a handful of others are temporarily closed or operating without liquor licenses. Negotiations are underway to re-open, but dancers I know are terrified.

Many see strip clubs as a symptom of the city’s dark underbelly, a place of exploitation and abuse. But to me, they represent student loan payments, education and freedom. For the hundreds of people working in the clubs, the crackdowns are a threat to our livelihoods and survival.

Stripping allows people to not just survive, but thrive, with flexible hours, high earning potential, and a low bar of entry. When I graduated college, I had more than $80,000 in debt. Dancing eased that burden. While I’ve been able to secure stability, I still have $20,000 in debt left, and I am also autistic — a disability that makes it difficult to hold down a traditional job.

Like many strippers, I travel often for work. I’m a New Yorker, but for three months a year, I dance in New Orleans. I was contracted to work this Carnival season, but now, I’m fighting to stay calm as I wait for the status of my job. My loan payment is due in days.

One stripper I know shares my worries, as she’s lost money needed to pay her bills. She’s grateful her club hasn’t been raided, but fear of police abuse has kept her away from work.

“I’ve been crying, angry and scared,” she said.

The representative for The Bourbon Alliance of Responsible Entertainers, Lyn Archer, stated: “During the raids, strippers and waitstaff described their photographs being taken without consent in their work attire. Many described being ridiculed and degraded.”

The worry of police misconduct has created anxiety throughout the community. Ironically, this may push workers out of strip clubs and into other forms of sex work. Bills don’t evaporate when clubs shut down.

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After the raids, the clubs imposed a hiring freeze. Now, some people have nowhere to work. One colleague sold her truck to pay her bills.

“I am heartbroken for every mother who has children to take care of, every student with loans, every woman who needs medical attention who no longer has the means to survive,” she told me.

But this week, we marched to save our jobs. The outside will see that we’re more than fishnets and lace, but people from all walks of life who work in the industry out of love or need. Regardless of how or why, stripping is our job — and it’s our right to work without fear just like everyone else.

Reese Piper is the stage and pen name of a stripper, based in New York, who also performs in New Orleans.

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