Duke Lacrosse Scandal Sheds New Light on the Stripper Industry: A Campus Trend?

April 24, 2006 — -- A Duke University student and lacrosse team captain calls Allure Escort Service to order two strippers. He says it's for a bachelor party, but the dancers arrive to a gathering of college boys, many drinking and some underage.

Is this just your average Monday night at college?

ABC News spoke with students and recent college graduates from around the country. All of them wanted to speak anonymously given the delicate nature of the topic, and all said the same thing: They had seen strippers at parties on or near campus, often at fraternity and athletic team parties celebrating birthdays or new pledges.

ABC News also heard from strippers in the Durham, N.C., area, some of whom did "outcalls" -- visits to in-house parties like the one held at the lacrosse house on March 13, the scene of an alleged rape that has generated national headlines.

Since last Monday's indictment of two Duke student lacrosse players, a cloud has hung over the storied halls and tulip gardens of the university's campus. More than a mile away at the Teaser's Palace strip club at the edge of downtown, business booms.

On Friday night, one patron said he had never seen the place more crowded. A cocktail waitress told ABC News the club hadn't seen any downtime since the start of the investigation. Elsewhere, a Charlotte strip club ran a sign that said, "Lacrosse Players Welcome."

There are different levels of "service" that most dancers -- what they prefer to be called -- provide. Those services range from $20 "no touching" lap dances at clubs -- where burly bouncers keep everybody in line -- to "outcalls," where women visit private homes, sometimes alone -- and where the definition of service gets murky.

'It's Like a Drug'

Summer, a 30-year-old exotic dancer who studies surgical technology by day and strips at a Durham club at night, has had a mixed experience as a stripper.

"I wouldn't wish this life on anyone," she said to ABC News. "But it's like a drug -- you get addicted to it."

Cassidy, her roommate, moonlights with "outcalls" to bachelor parties and other male-oriented events. Unlike the dancers at the lacrosse house, she says she always brings along a bodyguard for protection.

One Duke graduate wondered why -- unlike the strippers he has seen -- the women at the March 13 party had arrived without a bouncer.

"Every time we hired a stripper, she came with a bodyguard," he said. "Why would these two girls go unaccompanied?"

He added that each year his fraternity got a stripper for the new pledge class. He said that a fraternity brother also would buy drugs from the stripper and her pimp.

Cassidy, another stripper who spoke with ABC News, is comfortable dancing at in-house parties.

"It's great money," she said.

Cassidy said she never traded sex for money.

"Never, never, never," she said.

However, Cassidy said that some of the strippers she'd known took the job beyond dancing. One student at Emory University in Georgia said he'd seen strippers at parties for whom sexual services were a negotiable add-on to the dance performance for which she was hired.

By every account, having strippers on campus was part of a male bonding ritual, often with a dozen or more young men present.

At Cornell University in New York, one graduate remembered how halfway through "Hell Week" -- an arduous ritual of breaking in new members -- fraternity brothers brought in a stripper "just to remind us that they didn't completely hate us." At one of those parties, he recalled seeing one stripper paid to have sex with a new recruit in front of the entire pledge class. The rate she charged for oral sex was $50.

The Margin for Abuse

While the students and graduates said they understood the difference between dancing and prostitution, between consensual sex and rape, some said they could see the margin for abuse in alcohol and testosterone-driven settings.

"The guys are awful to the women," said the Cornell graduate. "They scream at them to do lascivious acts and stick fingers in and around them."

"They would always be very obnoxious to the girls," a former student from Harvard University said. "I see how guys treat strippers, and I can totally believe there might be abuse."

Why do the girls do it? The answer comes in dollar signs.

"On a good night I can make three or four hundred dollars," Summer said.

She said she felt safe at the club where she worked, and never made outcalls. Women at higher-end clubs can make $2,000 on an average night, she said.

Alcohol and sometimes drugs are a common denominator in Summer and Cassidy's world. Both women said they went through periods in their dancing career where they took drugs, though that was a long time ago, they said. They work with one woman who supports her heroin habit by dancing.

More than a month after the alleged attack at the Duke lacrosse party, the going rate at a Durham escort service was $250 to $300 for an hour and a half of female company -- roughly the same as what Allure Escort Service charged the lacrosse team for the two dancers who showed up that night. Allure could not be reached for comment. Its publicly listed phone number was disconnected.

While none of the North Carolina escort services contacted by ABC News openly offers sex for money, some company names -- Charlotte Harlots, A Pleasure Ryde, Close Encounters -- can set high expectations.

Brian, a local resident and occasional visitor to Summer's strip club, raved about the Dollhouse, a high-end strip club in Raleigh that he said played host to mayors and U.S. senators. Describing the club's "one-hour rooms," one patron said, "You walk in there and you get whatever you want. Steak, champagne, you can bring as many girls up as you want."

Working Toward Escape

Summer is close to the end of her stripping career. She's in a one-year program that will allow her eventually to leave the late-night world of strip clubs.

She has sympathy for the woman who has accused three men of raping her at a Duke lacrosse team party last month. She's been there herself, she said.

She began dancing for money at 17, living with her grandparents in Fayetteville, N.C., and trying to make it on her own. At 20, she got breast implants, paying $5,000 for them in installments over time. At 21, she said she was date-raped by a man she had met at a strip club.

"He seemed really nice, and everyone at the club kept saying I should go out with [him]," she said. "So eventually I did."

Summer said she didn't file charges against him because police told her that she would be dragged through the mud.

"I just wasn't ready to deal with that," she said. That was nine years ago, and Summer's still dancing.

"What else am I qualified to do?" she said.

Cassidy said that maybe half of her colleagues were outcall dancers. Summer said many of the dancers she knew had been physically abused.

"You need a kind of traumatic experience to make you tough enough to do this work," she said. "It's not an easy business."

The worst thing that ever happened to Cassidy was the night a German tourist called her a b----. She took his beer bottle and slammed him in the head with it. She was suspended from her job, but she doesn't regret it.

"It was worth it," she said.

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