Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Social and Cultural Vulnerability to Sexually Transmitted Infection: The Work of Exotic Dancers

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Social and Cultural Vulnerability to Sexually Transmitted Infection: The Work of Exotic Dancers

Article excerpt


This article examines the social and cultural factors that influence the vulnerability of female exotic dancers to sexually transmitted infections. Results are based on a qualitative, exploratory study using observations in 10 clubs and in-depth interviews with 30 dancers in southern Ontario. The social and cultural context within which exotic dancing takes place contributes to a chronic state of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the strip clubs. Women are pressured by economics and by their customers to engage in sex for pay. The defence mechanisms that some women use to deal with these work conditions also contribute to women's vulnerability. The social structure of strip clubs and their policies toward employees and customers can either reduce or exacerbate the vulnerability of dancers. Workplace policies and health and safety standards appear to be the most effective ways to decrease the vulnerability of dancers. Public health units can work with employers and dancers to establish workplace policies and programmes that contribute to the health and wellbeing of dancers.

In 1996 the Strategic Plan of UNAIDS' turned attention to concerns with vulnerability to HIV infection. Unlike risk, which is linked to individual behaviours and behaviour change, vulnerability extends into the realm of social and cultural factors that shape and form the circumstances of people's lives, thereby influencing their likelihood of exposure to health threats. The study on which this article is based arose from concern about the vulnerability to HIV infection of a particular occupational group, female exotic dancers. A review of the literature produced no studies addressing prevalence or risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in this population. There was, however, evidence of potential points of vulnerability, including high rates of alcohol consumption, use of illegal drugs, and sexual contact with customers.2-5

Estimating the number of women working in exotic dancing is difficult since this is not an occupational category that appears in national labour force studies. However, an impression of numbers in this occupation can be derived from the licences issued in jurisdictions where exotic dancing is licenced. In 1997 there were 2,478 dancers in Toronto, approximately 400 dancers in Windsor, and 375 dancers in Hamilton. Though some dancers hold licences in several cities, these numbers do provide a partial estimate of the size of the population under consideration.

METHODS Between June 1995 and February 1998, an exploratory study of female dancers was conducted using observations (10 clubs) and in-depth interviews (30 dancers). Bars and dancers were selected using nonprobability purposive sampling to maximize diversity in the sample.6

Field research teams of 2 to 4 people spent 2 to 3 hours per field excursion to the clubs diagramming club layouts and observing the work and interactions of dancers, customers, and other club staff. Interviews were conducted in locations chosen by the dancers and lasted 1 to 4 hours. Topics included: demographic characteristics, occupational history, work, work environment, interpersonal and sexual relationships, sexual history, substance use, home and leisure, and health concerns.7 Interviews were transcribed verbatim, coded and analyzed thematically.

In qualitative research, sampling strategies are used which maximize the diversity of participants to insure that a wide range of experiences are available for analysis. While this strategy facilitates elaboration of the phenomenon of interest, it precludes drawing generalizations about frequencies or prevalence. To prevent readers from drawing invalid conclusions, qualitative research reports avoid using numbers or a quantitative vocabulary in reporting results. We followed this procedure in this paper with one exception: we refer to the percentage of women who reported histories of STIs, drawing tentative comparisons with the general population. …

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