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LAS VEGAS, NV (KVVU) — For better or worse, Nevada is synonymous with sex. According to a University of Nevada, Las Vegas study, there are more than 100,000 people employed in the industry in Las Vegas alone. Las Vegas is home to more than 30 strip clubs and nearly 30 legal brothels are within driving distance. Five years ago, Joy Hoover made her first trip to the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo. The show, located at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, showcases more than 500 of the adult industry’s stars.

“We’re here to stay. No matter what profession you’re in, you’re valuable,” Hoover said. Hoover did hair and makeup for the show’s entertainers. “I just started hearing more stories about who they are and what they’re doing and about their lives and their kids and their families. I just realized we had a ton in common even though I had never worked in the business,” she said. During conversations, Hoover discovered unexpected things about the workers.

“Because of the fact that they are independent contractors with nontraditional hours, there were needs that had not been met, and there were no organizations that were non-judgmental and just there to support, completely free of judgment,” Hoover said.

Some of those needs include medical attention, counseling and financial help.

“I think that there are a lot of misconceptions. I hear all of the time, ‘Why do you help adult entertainers? Don’t they make tons of money?’ You know, I think some of them do. Some of them do very well, but there are low points, whether you get sick, get pregnant or maybe there’s a situation in life just like we all have that arises. When you’re an independent contractor, the money stops when that happens,” Hoover said.

When Hoover learned there is little help for those in the adult entertainment business, she packed her belongings, left her hometown in Michigan and set up shop in Las Vegas.

Hoover’s organization, Cupcake Girls, is a nonprofit not affiliated with any religion. Volunteers visit strip clubs and brothels, delivering sweet treats and providing a helping hand to those in the industry. “As they’re preparing for their shifts, we just give them a cupcake, give them a resource card. If they have a minute to chat, we’ll just share what the Cupcake Girls do and provide the resources that we do,” Hoover said. Cupcake Girls provides those in the sex industry with access to free medical and dental care, legal advice and violence counseling. Most of those resources are provided at Cupcake Girls’ center, located near South Valley View Boulevard and West Sirius Avenue.

Workers can also take advantage of financial planning, resume building and tutoring services. The center also offers coffee and cupcakes on Sundays. “That’s for current entertainers or those who were previous entertainers. They can come and talk through their goals, talk through what’s happening in the week, good or bad, and kind of just gain support from one another,” Hoover said. “They come with no agenda except to help,” said Christina Parreira, who has worked in the sex industry for seven years.

Parreira has worked in everything from strip clubs to brothels. Cupcake Girls has helped her file her taxes and provided her with counseling. She’s not surprised Cupcake Girls may be the only organization providing such services. “Stigma, discrimination, lack of funding – why would there be? I mean, who wants to help sex workers?” she said. Parreira said people don’t understand that sex workers fall on hard times like everyone else.

“If you get sick, you can’t work. You don’t get unemployment. I didn’t have a boss I could go to. Just to get the forms – when you’re working at a club, a brothel, a cam site, there are all these forms coming from all these different places as an independent contractor, and it can be really confusing and overwhelming,” she said.

Parreira has used the money she earned to put herself through school. She has a master’s degree in psychology and is working toward a PhD in sociology at UNLV. “Unfortunately, a lot of people see us as trashy, as desperate, drug-riddled. While that segment of the population of sex workers certainly exists, as it exists in all walks of life and employment, it’s not what people think it is,” Parreira said. “For me, this is a bridge. This isn’t a be-all and end-all career for me. It’s a bridge to get into something else,” adult entertainer Laura McClimans said.

McClimans, who has been in the business for several years, has benefited from Cupcake Girls as well. McClimans said many people think dancers like herself make thousands of dollars a night, but in reality they can actually lose money going to work. Dancers are typically required to pay the clubs at which they’re performing. “It’s almost like gambling. You may break even, you may come up, you may not have made that much money. You just never know what you’re going to get,” McClimans said.

Over the last three years, Cupcake Girls has provided more than 1,300 services to women like Parreira and McClimans. Volunteers help more than 100 women each year. Hoover would like to provide housing to women looking to transition out of the industry. “Our goal is actually to expand around the United States. We think that Cupcake Girls should be in every major city. There are entertainers around the world that are in need of resources and support. We sometimes support from afar,” Hoover said. Cupcakes Girls has expanded to Portland, OR. The nonprofit is funded by private donations and corporate sponsors.

It costs about $300,000 each year to keep the Las Vegas and Portland branches running. Volunteers primarily help women, but their services are available to men.

Medical and legal aid is usually provided pro bono by professionals.

By Danielle Miller