Exotic dancing ("strip clubs") is a visible, profitable and growing form of adult entertainment in the United States (Frank, 2003). Despite their popularity, these establishments have extremely bad image, much worse than many other forms of legal adult entertainment such as casinos and male magazines. One particular example is the almost immediate association between strip clubs and criminal activity. However, as discussed in this paper, the relations between strip clubs and higher crime rates are not based on hard evidence, and are arguably even utterly incorrect.
The adult entertainment industry faces legal restrictions, which pose more limitations on such establishments than others. For example, many cities, counties and states prohibit running a sex-related “adult” business within certain proximity from e.g. schools, churches or even residence houses, assuming negative secondary effects on the surrounding neighborhood (Linz, Land, Williams, Ezell, & Paul, 2004). However, more than a few indications show that these restrictions on one’s freedom to do business are not based on any sufficient knowledge, and thus do not serve any greater public interest.
Exotic dance adult entertainment is controversial and not widely understood (Hanna, 2005). These institutions, which vary from glamorous “gentlemen’s’” clubs to downscale “dive” bars, offer leisure services in the framework of serving beverages and provide topless dance performances, as well as “private” dance with some physical contact between the dancer and the customer. However, despite the explicit sexual nature of the shows, we need to distinguish exotic dance clubs from prostitution, as the existence of any kind of sexual intercourse can generally not to be found in such establishments.
Second, the general public’s negative approach to the manner are stigmatic in nature. This stigma can be related to the confusion between exotic dancing and prostitution, the general approach towards the sex industry, and a strong feminist opposition, which perceive this kind of entertainment as a field for practicing male domination and humiliation of women. Some other issues of “political correctness”, in particular religious influences, can also be considered as contributors to this approach.
Third, the media fuels negative perception by using it as a platform for perverts (e.g., the movie “Showgirls”) or for organized crime (e.g., HBO’s “The Sopranos”). Interestingly, however, some visits, such as bachelor parties, are seen as socially legitimate and even as normal male behavior (Frank, 2003).
Forth, perhaps specific characteristics of strip clubs’ activities may link it to more crime. For example, these establishments work at night, are cash-based and their customers are interested in keeping low profile and therefore are less likely to report crimes. Moreover, perhaps there are some evidence that can ling strip clubs to other types of crime such as drug dealing, women trafficking and organized crime.
How the zoning restrictions came about? As discussed above, strip clubs are assumed to have a secondary effect on their immediate premises, including crime rates. Such assumptions, partially supported by controversial empirical data (Linz, 2004), were suggested by municipalities to justify ordinances to limit the rights of exotic dance businesses in comparison to those of other alcohol-serving establishments.
Nevertheless, a strong body of research shows the exact opposite from the views presented so far. For example Linz et al (2004) have carefully tested the assumption that the presence of an adult entertainment business has a secondary effect of increasing crime in a 1000 feet area. Study and control areas were selected according to the demographic similarity of the areas, such as population size, percentage of the population which is African-American and median household income.
The researchers’ findings do not only contradict any relations between adult entertainment clubs and increased criminal activity, but also suggest some evidences that criminal activity in the proximity of such clubs is lower than in control areas. The study design and the regression analysis of the results undoubtedly reject any bias relating to choose of control sites.
Two main explanations are suggested in the article to support this phenomenon. First, there is a merit to the claim that state and federal regulations helped to convert these institutions into a more business profitability focused organizations, implying that social and legal standards must be met to ensure profitability and growth. In order to achieve these standards, many exotic dance clubs employ security guards, offer valet parking and keep the surrounding areas as safe as possible to attract paying customers (e.g., better lighting in their parking lots). Second, violent disputes in the areas surrounding exotic dance clubs between men over unwanted attention by other males to dates or partners are minimal due to the fact that the majority of patrons attend the clubs without female partners (Lint et al., 2004).
It is clear, though, that the content of such clubs differ it from other sorts of entertainment, and it would be understandable if municipalities will clearly oppose the phenomenon of using sex as a form of legitimate content of a night club. Nonetheless, such opposition should not be done through legislation due to constitutional issues. Therefore, if a mayor, for example, is interested in reducing the popularity of exotic dance clubs in his town, it would be advisable to act through education or by offering alternatives rather than ordering controversial zoning restrictions.
In conclusion, exotic dance clubs and other establishments in the sex industry are not necessarily a desired phenomenon in our society. However, in view of the First Amendment, restrictions on business activity should be based on true, empirical information regarding the subject matter and its implications rather than assumptions based on prejudge and/or normally accepted criteria of morality, crime patterns and consumer behavior. Indeed, we are clearly influenced from the generally negative social views towards such clubs and, like in many other fields, prefer to simply resist them instead of bothering to check the issues more carefully.
It is not imperative to develop any particular sympathy for this kind of business. It is nevertheless very important to use through judgement and rigorous studies before any adoption of social common-sense assumptions on this matter may lead to unconstitutional decisions which discriminate legitimate businesses. As a member of the society I hope and believe that we must not disregard alternative opinions about controversial issues, especially when there is a body of empirical data that supports them.
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