Las Vegas Sun

May 25, 2019

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A cupcake with a side of health care

Local nonprofit celebrates eight years of helping sex workers, adult entertainers

Joy Hoover

Liz Brumley / Courtesy

Cupcake Girls founder Joy Hoover, center, attends AVN.

In a suite inside the Hard Rock Hotel, women line up to get their hair and makeup done amid their busy work schedules at the Adult Video Network’s annual January expo. Countless adult performers are taking a break from meeting fans, signing memorabilia and modeling products. It’s a long workday, but the women have support.

Cupcake Girls 8 year anniversary party

• When: 7 p.m. March 9

• Where: Mansion 54, 1044 Sixth St.

• Cost: $25-$50

• Online:

In 2011, Joy Hoover launched the Cupcake Girls nonprofit in Las Vegas to provide sex workers and adult entertainers with varying levels of assistance—at AVN, Cupcake Girls offered rest, relaxation, food, goodie bags and massages. But since its inception, it has been responsible for supporting hundreds of clients with intensive case management; medical, dental and mental health services; legal counsel and more. It expanded to Portland, Oregon, which has the highest number of strip clubs per capita in the country, and on March 9, Hoover and the Cupcake Girls celebrate their eighth birthday.

Hoover founded the nonprofit after leaving a different organization that provided similar services. That group was faith-based. The Cupcake Girls are not.

“We didn’t want to exclude anyone from the services and care we provide,” Hoover said. “Everyone is deserving of human dignity, unconditional love and human resources.”

In the beginning, Hoover and a few volunteers would bring cupcakes to Las Vegas strip clubs and nearby brothels.

“We didn’t have any resources, so when we stopped in with cupcakes, it was kind of like, ‘Here’s our card! If you need anything, call us,’ and they were like, ‘What do you mean?’”

Hoover said the Cupcake Girls have learned a lot along the way. “What’s changed is our understanding,” she explained. They got a glimpse at the diverse needs of sex workers with their first call—a woman with an abscessed tooth needed a dentist.

“We called 20 dentists in Las Vegas and said, ‘Can you help this person in our community?’ As we kept showing up with cupcakes, we saw more and more needs.”

Dental care is still at the top of the list, Hoover said, but group services have grown through the years. “Now that we have an actual case management program, a therapist on our staff and trained client advocates with 18 hours of trauma training, we’re able to provide more intensive care.”

The Cupcake Girls follow an empowerment model, meaning, “We don’t tell clients what to do,” Hoover explained. And when a client has a need, the Cupcake Girls use the SMART goal strategy—they find specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely goals to set with the client.

“I love them,” Vegas-based porn star Arielle Aquinas said. “They always have a suite at AVN, and it’s really nice. … If you’re having any issues, they’ll sit and talk to you, and if you need hair, makeup or a massage, you can [get one] for just $20. It’s always great to have them there.”

As a nonprofit, the organization relies on volunteers and donors.

“Some of our clients are making great money but need a financial adviser, so we’re able to connect them with those types of resources,” said Jenny Fay, Las Vegas city director.

Other clients have more serious needs. “We have some clients who come to us and they didn’t choose to be in the industry; they’ve been in trafficking situations,” Fay added.

Others may be in the industry as a means of survival, but want help finding other work. “The reality is, because of the stigma and the marginalization surrounding the adult industry, people are way more susceptible to sexual assault and abuse,” Hoover said. “Doing something as simple as getting a bank account or [seeing] a doctor or therapist has their own unique challenges.”

Whether it’s finding a sex-worker friendly bank (many banks will close accounts if they find out the money has come from the adult industry), a judgment-free doctor or gynecologist, or emergency housing, Fay said the nonprofit is there to help. “That’s one of the things that is very important to us. To continue showing people in the adult industry that they matter, and that they’re cared for and supported.”

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.