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Duke porn star Belle Knox is building her brand one strip club at a time

Duke porn star Belle Knox is building her brand one strip club at a time

The audience Friday at Show Palace, a strip club in Long Island City, Queens, with giant rotating chandeliers and black velour roses on the wall, is far from overwhelming. There are maybe 50 to 70 patrons at most.

But if the crowd isn’t as big as Miriam Weeks—better known as Belle Knox—hoped for in her debut as a stripper, she doesn’t show it. The Duke University freshman made national headlines in February when she admitted to filming pornography on the side to pay for her private-school tuition. Tonight, she glides into Show Palace and heads straight to the strippers’ changing room in the back, greeting her fellow performers with hugs and kisses.

Weeks puts her arm around “Rain,” a curvy woman in an animal-print top and faded skirt that seem quaint beside Weeks’s matching black stilettos, minidress, and carefully coiffed curls. Rain is also a student, at an urban technical institute where she is earning her associate’s degree—a far remove from the rarefied grounds of Duke University. Rain tells me stripping at Show Palace has finally helped her gain control of her finances. Weeks nods her head in agreement, and when Rain excuses herself to take the stage, she cheers out, “Make that money!” Later Rain tells me she had never heard of Weeks, the girl who was clutching her like her favorite sorority sister.

Weeks exudes affection for the strippers we meet as we travel through Show Palace, and she talks enthusiastically about the importance of women finding ways to manage the growing cost of tuition and potentially crippling student debt. She has spoken publicly of how she turned to pornography to pay for Duke’s $60,000-a-year price tag and to avoid private loans, which have become a necessary and serious evil of higher education. In 2012, the average debt per college student was $29,400, an increase of 6 percent each year since 2008, according to The Project on Student Debt.

When the Duke scandal first broke, Weeks, 18, made it clear that she wanted to be an advocate for sex workers and eventually become a civil-rights lawyer. “We need to remove the stigma attached to their profession and treat it as a legitimate career that needs regulation and oversight,” she wrote in an essay for the Web site xoJanein February. “We need to give a voice to the women that are exploited and abused in the industry.”

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