By Erin Cotter
Disclaimer: The GPC student interviewed for this article is real, however, we changed the name to Betsy Stafford to protect her identity.
Walking into the strip club at 3:00 p.m. is like walking into a different world. Light is replaced with darkness, crisp air replaced by cigarette smoke and sweat, and rap music plays loudly as men sit at tables by themselves sipping cold drinks.
Betsy Stafford stands in tall heels on stage, twisting her body along with the music. It’s her first dance of the night and her garter begins filling up with ones.
Betsy Stafford is not your average student.
Stafford maintains a 3.6 GPA as a STEM student with plans to major in chemical engineering. To afford her living and school expenses Stafford works as a stripper.
Stafford’s father and step mother got a divorce in the fall of her senior year of high school and they moved to an apartment in Birmingham, Al.
Stafford’s relationship with her father grew more stressful as her senior year went on and fights became worse. One night an argument broke out about her FASFA form and it ended with her leaving the house with no where to go.
“It was the Thursday before spring break, I called my teachers and said that I wouldn’t be able to make it to class because I was busy not having a place to live,” recalls Stafford.
After the fallout with her father, Stafford asked a friend if she could move in.
She took a job at a local outback. As a lead hostess she was making almost no money, “we were supposed to get paid more than the other hostesses, but they didn’t do that, and they worked me overtime, I was working 5 or six days a week from open to close,” said Stafford.
“I figured I might as well try to get a job at Hooters.”
Stafford walked out to the patio wearing bright orange shorts and a small white hooters shirt. Stafford had her hair styled in a very short, chic pixie cut.
There were eight guys sitting out on the patio smiling as she walked up to greet them and take their drink order.
All of the guys loved her except for one of them. “I don’t come to hooters to get waited on by a boy,” one of them said. This sparked conversation which lead to the other seven guys jeering and laughing at the rude one.
“He got so frustrated that he spit on me.”
After she begins her job at Hooters, Stafford also began taking shifts at a Journeys shoe store. She was now working close to seven days a week, sometimes 12 hour days, making about $700 a week, until she met a customer from Atlanta who told her about stripping.
“He told me I would make a good stripper.”
Stafford called the club her customer suggested. The manager told her she had to have an outfit, and be able to dance 3 songs on stage.
Stafford takes down directions from her roommate over the phone while driving in her car. After an hour of being lost in Atlanta, she finally finds the club.
The “house mom,” who looks after the girls, took one look at Stafford and told her she could not work nights and to come back the next morning to try out for day shift. The house mom also told Stafford to buy another outfit because the one she had was no good.
The next morning she came for try outs.
“I got up on stage and I was basically just flopping around, and they hired me! I’m glad that they did, because the first day that I worked I made 500 dollars, the second day and third day I made 500 dollars as well,” exclaimed Stafford.
She was amazed that she could work for three days and make more than than she could working every day for two weeks at her other jobs.
Betsy Stafford sits in a black and white stripped, tight fitting BeBe dress while talking to a patron. The patron, a man with salt and pepper and brown hair, sits in the dark next to Stafford with his belly hanging over his pressed khaki pants. He smiles as she flirts with him and strokes his ego. Apparently, he has asked Stafford for a dance because she stands up and pulls the clingy dress over her head. She unsnaps the small clasps on her thong and struggles slightly to pull it off over her heels. As the song plays she moves along with the music. Strangely, the man guiltily begins looking around the club as though he is looking to see who is watching him rob the cradle.
For Stafford, work does not always stay at the club, sometimes fantasy becomes reality.
Sitting on Stafford’s tan sectional couch is a grey haired man holding a screwdriver, wearing a white oxford shirt and red tie. Stafford sits on the floor struggling to fit together two pieces of a outdoor patio table. They are talking about her ex-boyfriend.
Stafford met him at the club when she first started. After awhile they would sit down and have long conversations at the tables by the stage. They started frequenting the VIP rooms to sit and talk together. “It was never sexual, I mean he liked seeing me naked … He doesn’t have kids or grand-kids … so he calls me his granddaughter if anybody asks and I know his wife really well. People come into strip clubs because they’re lonely and need someone to take care of. To him, I’m the grand-kid that he never had,” explains Stafford.
Stafford quit her first job at the club she worked at and didn’t work in the strip club scene again for about a year. When she started stripping again her work relationship with this man had changed.
He had not seen her naked for about a year at this point. When he tried to visit her at her new club, Stafford started feeling uncomfortable with the situation. “We were sitting there and he was like ‘do you want to dance?’ I said ‘no, I’m good’ so we made a rule that he is no longer allowed to come see me at work,” said Stafford.
Stafford’s relationship with the man is no longer one of financial responsibility, except for Christmas and birthday presents, he is not obligated to pay Stafford for spending time together.
There are three stages at the club: a large slick wooden stage for the featured dancers by the entrance, another near the back is a slightly smaller stage next to a heavy mahogany door leading to the VIP rooms, and the third is an even smaller stage on the side of the club.
Each of the stages has a girl dancing. Two are topless, but the third is wearing a bright yellow tank top and a black thong. Her facial expression shows she is enjoying her dance, but her clothed body implies that she has received no tips yet.
The man with the large belly and khakis is now sitting alone admiring one of the dancers. Stafford is no where to be found.
Stafford appears coming out of the door to the VIP rooms. She quickly runs over to a table to greet some friends, a younger man and his date. They both exchange a hug with Stafford and she tells the couple that she will be busy for the rest of the night with a regular patron in the VIP room.
Stafford walks back to the door and disappears, the couple seems to understand the situation and they leave through the side exit of the club.
“I stopped doing VIPs for several months, because one time…”
Stafford sat down to talk to a man, he seemed nice enough, so she invited him back to the VIP lounge.
Once they were secluded, the man’s personality changed. He became forceful and started putting his hands all over her. Stafford told the man “No,” but she was unprepared for what happened next.
The man physically crossed the line when he forced his fingers into her vagina.
She screamed and pushed the man off. He got angry and yelled at Stafford accusing her of false advertising. The man then ripped the money he had paid her out of her garter and ran out of the back, leaving the club. Stafford stood in a daze for a minute, scared and unsure of what to do next.
She then made her way to the DJ booth and was so upset the DJ asked her what was wrong. “I didn’t want to tell them what happened. Then he told the bouncer, but by the time the bouncer got outside the man was already gone,” said Stafford.
This was the only experience Stafford has had like this at the clubs, she has never had anyone follow her home or wait for her to leave. “I’ve actually had more scary experiences when I was working at Hooters, than when I was working at the strip clubs,” said Stafford.
Stafford reappears from the back of the club, walking out with the man she was with for the last three hours. She hugs the man and tells him goodbye.
After tipping the DJ, house mom, and manager, she is free to go.
She walks out of the club for the first time in nine hours, the sun has long since set and she is now $1,000 richer.