New UMN study cites performers’ safety concerns at Minneapolis strip clubs

Lauren Martin presented the study to the City Council Monday.

Tawnya Konobeck, an entertainer, speaks during a press conference following a city council meeting that heard a report on the workplace conditions of erotic dancers in Minneapolis strip clubs on Monday, Mar. 27, 2017. The council said it wants to begin regulating the strip club workplace for entertainers after hearing the report.

Ellen Schmidt

Tawnya Konobeck, an entertainer, speaks during a press conference following a city council meeting that heard a report on the workplace conditions of erotic dancers in Minneapolis strip clubs on Monday, Mar. 27, 2017. The council said it wants to begin regulating the strip club workplace for entertainers after hearing the report.

Mike Hendrickson

After hearing new research on safety concerns facing local strip club performers, Minneapolis city officials pledged to explore stricter city ordinances on Monday.

The University of Minnesota study — led by Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) research director, Lauren Martin, and commissioned by the city — outlines key problems at local strip clubs, which range from performers’ frequent injuries on the job, to sexual harassment, and concerns over unfair wages due to entertainers’ independent contractor status.

The study comes two weeks after the Minneapolis Health Department found bodily fluids in 11 out of 17 licensed Minneapolis adult entertainment clubs.

Ward 2 Council Member Cam Gordon, head of the council’s health committee, said the results from the study were “shocking” when he initially saw them early this month, and said the City Council is already looking into ordinances and amendments that might help club conditions.

“I didn’t have any idea this was how these businesses operated,” Gordon said. “Maybe we’ve been turning our heads the other way for too long for the wrong reasons. There’s a lot of reasons why we should pay more attention to this.”

Gordon said the study was prompted by complaints about the conditions in Minneapolis strip clubs.

The study was conducted by the UROC and a community advisory group. It focused on the 10 established strip clubs in Minneapolis.

The researchers interviewed 24 performers from September to February and had others fill out an anonymous online survey.

Martin said she didn’t interview any clubs owners, as the study was meant to explore and open a dialogue about the problems performers face. Gordon said he plans to talk to owners as he drafts the ordinances and amendments.

Tawnya Konobeck, a member of the community advisory group and an entertainer, said if the changes will be beneficial to everyone, the owners should be open to them.

“The findings didn’t surprise me, unfortunately,” Konobeck said. “It’s terrible, but it’s not shocking.”

In the presentation, Martin detailed how unfair wages led to a higher risk of feeling unsafe, as performers feel pressured to “do more” for more money.

These problems mostly arise in VIP spaces, where customers are alone with entertainers and experience higher rates of “unwanted physical contact, sexual harassment, and pressure to engage in commercial sex trading from customers.”

The study also made recommendations to improve the working conditions, like upping surveillance, eliminating tipping for managers and redefining standards for customer interactions.

“This is a legal industry, and workers in a legal industry should have a safe and supportive work environment,” Martin said. “I think it’s possible for the industry to have that.”

Gordon said he will give a notice of intent for his changes to the full City Council by April 27, and two weeks later the council will vote on whether to proceed, which Gordon expects to pass. He plans to work with Ward 13 Council Member Linea Palmisano on the ordinances and amendments.

Public and other committee hearings will then follow over the summer.