PORTLAND, Ore. — Sex work is a crime throughout most of the country, though bills have been introduced to change that. One woman isn’t waiting for things to change and instead, she's supporting sex workers the best way she knows how.
Nestled within East Portland lies a hidden gem. It started off as a late-night meal delivery service but it has grown exponentially. The smells and comfort of Nikesia Newton's home-style cooking are now available at a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
"Uh, it’s pretty phenomenal. I have to pinch myself quite often," Newton said.
The purpose of this restaurant is about much more than delicious dishes. Meals 4 Heels was created to serve the community of sex workers whose only options late at night are unhealthy fast food.
“I was dating someone. She was a full-time student, she was dancing and she was interning full-time," Nikesia explained.
Nikesia started delivering meals to her girlfriend at work a few years back and quickly, the other women wanted in.
“They are just like oo girl what you eating, what is that, who brought you that?" Nikesia said. ”She said, ‘you know they would pay you for this,’ and so that just always stuck with me”
That’s when it hit her; those in the sex industry have no healthy options to eat late at night. So she left her job and Meals 4 Heels was born.
“I really didn’t think it would get any bigger than delivering to clubs," Nikesia said.
But two years later, it’s now a restaurant. The only one of its kind.
“I just want people to see me and see the strength of a Black woman, the strength of my out and proudness," Nikesia said.
This sex worker goes by Taila. We are protecting her identity due to the nature of her work. She says Nikesia showed a care for women like her that they had never seen before.
“The first time three years ago whenever she had just opened up, she came out ya know it was 4 in the morning. My other option was Denny’s," Talia said. “Because there is such a lack of support for sex workers due to the stigma surrounding sex work, it’s touching to know Nikesia really cares about what we are putting as nutrition into our bodies.”
Now, this new brand new restaurant has created an opportunity for discussion.
“It’s important to have conversations surrounding sex work and de-stigmatizing because it creates a safer space for sex workers," Talia said.
Portland, Oregon, may be home to the most strip clubs per capita within the U.S., according to the Oregon Historical Society, but prostitution is not legal there.
“The heart and soul of it is sex work, not just the strip clubs, because it trickles down to other types of sex work," Nikesia said.
Only certain counties within Nevada have legalized some form of prostitution. Otherwise, it’s illegal throughout the country. Talia says until those laws are changed and the stigmas are removed, people like herself aren’t safe to do their jobs.
“You push people to not want to report an assault because they are afraid of incriminating themselves," Talia said. “I see a future for sex workers where they are listened to, where they are visible, where they have protections.”
For now, Nikesia is changing the conversation.
"I never thought I would be this trailblazing but I am just going to let the trail set ablaze, ya know what I mean, let’s fire this s*** up," Nikesia said.