In her campaign to pass a bill adding a $3 admission surcharge to strip clubs that serve alcohol, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon may be misrepresenting the results of a study on whether such clubs cause crime.
“There’s been research done in communities across the United States that all come to the same conclusion that where you have a strip club that serves alcohol, there’s an increase in crime,” Simon told Ward Room earlier this month. “It’s an increase in both sexual assault and other crimes that I would not have suspected before starting to look more closely into this part of the economy. The men who go to strip clubs are going to a place where they’re not going to want to spend money on their credit cards, and so have a lot of cash and consume alcohol and are considered soft targets for crime, because they’re less likely even to report what’s going on.”
Simon’s bill is modeled on a bill passed by the Texas Legislature, and affirmed by that state’s Supreme Court. But in an article on Salon.com, blogger Tracy Clark-Flory argued that the legislature’s study didn’t find a crime increase in strip clubs, and that the crime issue is a cover for “censorship,” “religious moralism” and “just plain financial desperation.” (Simon’s bill would devote the surcharge to funding rape crisis centers.)
The key study advocates point to is one commissioned by the Texas Legislature in 2009. But that very report states, “no study has authoritatively linked alcohol, sexually oriented business, and the perpetration of sexual violence.” What’s more, when I talked to Bruce Kellison, director of the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Texas at Austin, and one of the authors of the report, about the alleged link between strip clubs and sexual assault, he said, “That’s not really what our study was trying to do.”
What it was trying to do was review the research on whether clubs have a “negative secondary effect” (in other words, harmful side effects). “Most of the [research] has found that there is a moderate amount of increased criminal activity outside of clubs,” he said. That’s a point contested by some: Daniel Linz, a communications and law professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says studies used to support restrictive zoning or special taxes on strip clubs are methodologically flawed — they fail to use appropriate controls and rely on inconsistent and unreliable data sources. Take, for example, that zoning laws often relegate strip clubs to shadier parts of town, where, of course, there is greater crime. Without an appropriate control, that crime can’t be attributed to the club itself.
According to a study Linz conducted, “Those studies that are scientifically credible demonstrate either no negative secondary effects associated with adult businesses or a reversal of the presumed negative effect.” He tells me, “We’ve done crime map after crime map after crime map of many cities and there just aren’t clusters of crime around [strip clubs]. Most crime in most cities tends to occur around high schools.” Tax the teens!
That’s just to speak of crime in general. The important thing here, given the aim of these tax initiatives, is sex crime. The Texas report looked at the incidence of sexual violence in particular inside the clubs and found that there wasn’t “additional sexual assault violence going on in the clubs,” says Kellison, or even around the clubs.
Simon testified to the Senate Public Health Committee that “[t]here’s been a strong, scientific recognition that when you associate those industries with alcohol, that there's a substantial effect there, an increase in crime, particularly sexual assault.”
The bill passed the Senate unanimously last week, with sponsor Toi Hutchinson, D-Chicago Heights, asserting a connection between strip clubs and sex crimes.
If the clubs were really causing more crimes, the solution would be closing or policing them. This bill is going to pass, but let’s be honest about what it is. It’s not a crime prevention measure. It’s a sin tax.
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