Boys will be boys.
How many times had I heard that before? It was a popular saying in my circle. It was what we told ourselves so we could get through another night of clammy, pawing hands and drunken come ons. It was what we said to each other after another all-too-near-miss with a particularly forward client. It was what we repeated in our heads while we forced our red lipped smiles in the face of yet another boy who had trouble with the word no.
After all, wasn’t it just part of the job?
People get into stripping for a lot of reasons; the all too popular daddy issues, the enjoyment that comes from dancing naked in front of a room full of strangers, money issues. I was the latter, a late teens runaway who got tired of being a parental punching bag and needed a way out. If nothing else, my parents had given me a set of natural assets and the base amount of rhythm required to work a pole, so with no other life experience or relevant education, I went to the one place I was pretty sure I’d find work.
Starla’s was the “gentleman’s club” in the next town over; a square, brick building with blacked out windows and a classy pair of neon lips flashing on the front door. I managed to talk myself into a topless waitressing gig, which eventually turned into a mid-week trial dance run, which eventually became weekends sashaying across a stage in nothing but a pair of heels and a smile.
We all say we’re only in it for a little while, just until we’ve made enough to afford whatever our next step is, but that little while ends up becoming a month, a year, two, three, and onward, until you’re either too drugged up to ever function anywhere else or you really do find that great opportunity you’d known was waiting for you.
I never had a plan other than just survive. I guess that’s why I was still at Starla’s five years later.
It was comfortable by then. I had my regulars, most of whom were actually pretty ok guys who just enjoyed attractive women without clothes. They knew the rules, they followed the rules, and they paid my bills. What more could a girl ask.
It was the new guys that were the problem; the ones with the wandering hands and the belief that enough money really could buy them whatever they wanted. Unlike our regs, they liked to push the envelope, and while we did have bouncers to deal with the more egregious offenders, most of the time we were made to laugh off their advances.
Boys will be boys after all, right?
The worst I ever encountered was Owen. He was a car salesman, not even the used kind, if you can believe it, and he loved the ladies. He loved looking at us, he loved touching us, but he did not love talking to us. One of his favorite lines was, “If you’re going to be opening your mouth, it better be so I can shove something in it!” while laughing uproariously. A real charmer.
He started coming in right after I’d celebrated by fifth year anniversary with Starla’s. I’d just finished my set and was walking the room to collect additional tips and offer private dances when I felt a hand on my thigh. A big no no. I turned to see this guy, good looking in a “Please don’t speak because I know it’s just going to ruin everything” kind of way, grinning up at me from his table.
“How much?” He asked.
I ignored my knee jerk reaction to slap that smug smile off his face and purred a response. It was hard to make rates sound sexy, but I like to think I pulled it off.
“For that flat ass? Get outta here!”
I shrugged and started to walk away, an extra sway in my step to accentuate what he was missing out on. He took it as an invitation to give “that flat ass” a resounding smack. Bruce, one of the bouncers and a good friend, remained in his corner, but he made eye contact to let me know I had his attention. It was just a playful slap, after all, and boys will be boys.
Owen started making a name for himself around the club. He was rude, he was grab happy, and it was clear that we dancers weren’t actually people to him. Still, his money was as good as the next guy’s and he was willing to spend a lot of it. A few of the younger girls actually thought it was kind of flattering, the whole bad-boy-devil-may-care thing that Owen tried to have going on, but those of us who’d been there longer were far less impressed.
None less so than Crystal.
She had started around the same time as me and we’d become close. She was a rough and tumble country girl who knew exactly how attractive she was and enjoyed showing it off.
“God didn’t give me this body for nothing,” she said to me. “While I got it, I’m gonna use it.”
Her unabashed and unapologetic attitude drew a younger, scared me to her instantly.
It seemed to have the same effect on Owen.
Every night she was working, he’d be in, catcalling her while she was on stage, buying private dances and trying to touch her even after she explicitly told him no, telling off other guys who tried to hire her. The more she told him off, the more he seemed to enjoy it.
“Keep mouthing off, honey,” he’d say. “Just see where it gets you.”
Crystal complained to management, but Owen had quickly become a “valued client” and since he technically wasn’t breaking any rules, they were willing to look the other way. They went so far as to tell the bouncers to lay off as well. Someone who was willing to spend as much money as Owen was not someone they were willing to lose.
Even after the stalking started.
It was a late Saturday night and we’d just finished a shift. Crystal was going to give me a ride to my apartment. We’d made it halfway out to her car when she grabbed me roughly by my arm and tugged me back towards the club.
“Uh, did you forget something?” I asked.
“Keep walking,” she hissed.
There were footsteps behind us, slow and deliberate, and I picked up the pace to match Crystal’s. By the time we reached the club door, they sounded like they were right behind us. Crystal shoved me in first and followed quickly after. She twisted the deadbolt into place just as someone gave the door a tug. I jumped with a small shout and clapped a hand over my mouth while Crystal gave my arm a reassuring squeeze.
Bruce, who had been walking the club and locking up, came into the corridor to see what the noise was about.
“It was Owen,” she said, breathless and angry. “I saw him sitting on my car; he was waiting for me!”
Of course, when Bruce went out to check, the parking lot was empty.
When Crystal demanded to know what management planned to do about it, they basically shrugged and said he was harmless and probably just wanted to talk. She told them that was bullshit and she’d refuse to interact with him because it was becoming a safety concern and they said she could certainly do so, but it would cost her her job.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place (Starla’s was the most popular club in the area and leaving would mean a significant pay cut), Crystal squared her shoulders and decided to handle it.
The next time she found him waiting for her after work, she pepper sprayed him until the canister was almost empty.
“Oops,” she said coldly while I huddled behind her. “You scared me.”
We left him choking on threats and insults in the poorly lit parking lot.
If Crystal had thought that would deter Owen, she’d been very wrong. It only made him worse.
One night, after I’d gotten home, showered, and changed into my pjs for bed, my phone buzzed.
“He’s outside my house!” Crystal whispered into the line. “He followed me home!”
“Call the cops,” I said. “File a report and get a restraining order!”
“He’s just sitting there. I can see him looking this way.”
“I’m serious, Crystal!”
“They won’t do anything, Monica. I’ve heard about this shit from other girls; since he hasn’t threatened me, they’ll say their hands are tied.”
“There’s gotta be something you can do.”
“If he comes on my property, I have a little 9 mil that he’s gonna get real friendly with.”
“You sure you don’t want to call the cops?”
“Yeah. I can handle this creep myself.”
I hoped she was right.
It wasn’t long after that that the pictures started. Some were of her, always out in a public place, some were of a penis, all from weird numbers, never the same twice. We both knew that it was Owen, but we didn’t know how to prove it. She never responded and refused to change her number, saying that she wasn’t going to let some small dicked loser scare her.
Owen kept coming to the club, kept dumping tons of money into dances from Crystal, which she kept dull and short, and he kept waiting for her. A couple of the bouncers offered to walk her out after the first few times, but Crystal brushed them off.
“If he thinks I’m going to live in fear, he’s got another thing coming. I’ll jam my heel so far up his ass that it pops out his mouth if he tries to touch me.”
It went on for months. Management didn’t do anything, we weren’t allowed to call the cops, Crystal refused help. The longer it went on, the deeper the chill in my gut became. Crystal might have felt confident that she could handle Owen, but I wasn’t.
I hated that I ended up being right.
Crystal disappeared almost six months to the day after Owen started coming to the club.
The first time she missed a shift, I called and called, but got no answer. The second time, I went to her house. Her car was there, but if she was, she didn’t open the door to my relentless pounding. The third, I called the police.
After I reported her missing, I expected things to move quickly. I was sure the cops would do everything in their power to follow up on leads, search for evidence, find her. But days turned into weeks and the weeks into a month and there was still no sign of Crystal.
Owen continued to come to the club and he was as crass and bold as ever. Whenever he caught me looking, he’d give me a wink and go back to what he’d been doing. Management never even spoke to him; as long as he was still spending money, he was welcome.
Seeing him was enough to make me sick.
“Can’t you do anything about him?” I asked the lead detective on the case.
“We questioned him, Miss Santos, but there was no evidence to indicate he had anything to do with Miss Paul’s disappearance.”
“He was stalking her!”
“So you said.”
I did say it, a lot and repeatedly, but it just seemed to fall on deaf ears. News of her disappearance didn’t spread far and wide, there was no news coverage, no press conferences, no journalists waiting outside the club to question people about the missing woman, and I quickly learned why.
No one thought of Crystal as a missing woman.
Crystal was a missing stripper, and that made all the difference.
Stripper meant drug fiend, it meant flakey, it meant she was unreliable and prone to up and leaving without warning just because. Stripper meant “not worth our time, money, or concern”. Not even Starla’s seemed to care very much. To them, it was just another case of turnover and they had plenty of other girls waiting in the wings to take on the mantle of Stripper.
Crystal had been there five years and no one batted an eye when she just…vanished.
I quit not long after I came to that realization.
“You know Owen did something to her.” I accused Marty, the club owner, after I told him I was leaving.
He just shrugged. “I know she didn’t like him.”
“You saw how he treated her!”
“He was a creep, sure, but that’s not a crime. Look, I told Crystal if she was unhappy, she could go. Looks like she did just that.”
“How can you not care? What if he does it again to someone else?”
“I’m just letting the cops do their job while I do mine, which is to run a club. If I got worried about every bitch who quit without warning, I’d go insane.”
“Owen is dangerous.”
“Owen’s just a little…forward. If you’re going to be this sensitive, you really shouldn’t be working here anyway.”
I stared at him, my mouth hanging open, and he waved me impatiently towards the door. I took the hint and stormed out. As I stomped my way through the lounge area, I caught sight of Owen, one of the new girls in his lap. He smirked when he saw me looking and, with obvious, slow exaggeration, fondled his latest victim.
I wanted to set him on fire.
Instead, I just left.
It didn’t matter that I was certain he’d done something to Crystal, it didn’t matter that she’d complained about him for ages, it didn’t matter that she had been sober and reliable and hard working. While everyone could agree Owen was a pig and a creep with boundary issues, they didn’t believe me when I told them he’d been stalking her. I’m not even sure they spent much time looking for proof. No one wanted to listen.
She was, after all, just a stripper.
And boys, after all, will be boys.