CYBERSPACE—It's been just a week since Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a tax on strip clubs that serve alcohol which starts at $3 per patron but could easily go as high as $25,000 per year depending on a club's revenues—and Columbia University Prof. Marc Lamont Hill felt that the subject was primed for a debate on Huffington Post Live. (The full segment can be viewed here.)
Present for the festivities were attorney Jincey Lumpkin, the "Chief Sexy Officer" of adult movie producer Juicy Pink Box; Tasha Reign, adult performer and a student of Women's Studies at UCLA; feminist blogger and activist Lena Chen; and UC-Irvine Criminology Prof. Richard McCleary, the current "go to" expert for religio-conservatives trying to restrict the presence of strip clubs and adult stores in municipalities across the country, the accuracy of whose work has been called into question in at least two recent cases.
To begin, Hill played a clip of Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon attempting to justify the tax: "We've heard from researchers who have looked at sexual industries and particularly strip clubs and particularly the combination of a strip club which objectifies women and alcohol which reduces barriers to behaving well. These researchers have found that a wide variety of crime, particularly including sexual assault, increases in the areas where there's a strip club that serves alcohol."
"That sounds suspect to me," Hill opined, then turned to McCleary, who reportedly served as a consultant to the law's sponsors, for his justification for Simon's words.
"There's a large body of experimental research which shows that alcohol increases aggressive expressions in primarily men, and exposure to nudity, erotica, also produces aggression," McCleary stated. "The research shows that the interaction of these two factors has an effect that's larger than the sum of these two exposures... If you actually just want to look at crime, there are two classes of female crime victims who are associated with these businesses. One of course is the people who work in these clubs, the dancers or the private contractors. The research generally shows that most of the women who work in these clubs have been victims of sexual assault related to the clubs."
That last statement, which is clearly false, went unchallenged as the conversation became more heated and both Lumpkin and Reign attacked the alleged basis for the law: That strip clubs cause sexual assault.
"I see no causality here for this law," Lumpkin stated. "I think this law perpetrates stereotypes that are negative and demeaning, and I also think it's completely ineffective... Selling sex and alcohol does not lead to rape. Rapists lead to rape. In the study itself—I read the study, and it says in no uncertain terms, 'No study has authoritatively linked alcohol, sexually oriented businesses and the perpetration of sexual violence.'... Second of all, rape is a crime of violence, it's not a crime of passion, so offloading this responsibility onto the strip clubs is unfair both to the strip clubs and in general to the state of Illinois. This is a public health issue; this is really not an issue that should be left up to these strip clubs to fund these rape crisis centers that are necessary."
Reign, who has a thriving dance career, agreed.
"I have a very personal relationship with strip clubs," she said. "I travel all over the nation and I feel like it's not only a false accusation/correlation that strip clubs cause rape or they're correlated with rape, but it's just a scapegoat for our society."
"Rape is caused by many different factors," she continued. "Strip clubs are an outlet of entertainment for men and sometimes couples to feel sexually expressive and let go, not to rape anyone. I would love to see your statistics on this because I actually, at UCLA, take an 'aggression against women' course; I take tons of things that study correlations of sexual aggression, rape and sex business, and to be honest, this just paints the whole adult industry in a negative light and makes the mainstream audience somehow believe that strip clubs are now associated with rapists, which is absolutely not the case. Rape is most common among people you are acquainted with already, and there are so many factors that play a huge and pertinent cause into why a rapist rapes a specific person, so this to me is just feeding into the stereotype like all these people have said, and I think it's disgusting; it infuriates me, because I feel like I do a great thing for our society, I'm very passionate about my job and just to see this law has been passed because of the special interest groups and politics, it just makes me sick."
"I mean, are we going to start taxing every time we go to a baseball game because there are fights that break out and because the rates of rape go up when we go to sporting events?" she added. "Are we going to tax all the people that work in the military and come home and rape goes up? Are we going to start taxing everybody on things that there's some sort of correlation between? I think that when you target the problem, which is education, media literacy, and the root of all of it is childhood education; that is where the focus needs to be."
Reign's mention of correlation versus causation prompted Hill to ask McCleary about it, but apparently McCleary felt that the concept—that some things happen at the same time as other things, but one doesn't necessarily cause the other—was too high-brow for Huffington Post listeners.
"This is a very technical, very philosophical topic," McCleary stated. "Everything that Jincey has said, for example, you could say about the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. There are many causes of lung cancer; cigarette smoking is only one. We can't really establish a causal link as it's ordinarily understood because we can't randomly assign many of these variables that are in play here," adding in response to a question from Hill, "It's a strong correlation."
Certainly, Sociology Prof. Dan Linz would disagree—and did so in an analysis of "secondary effects" studies which became part of the U.S. Supreme Court's record in City of Erie v. Pap's AM, as well as his analysis of McCleary's findings in a San Antonio, Tex. case involving take-out-only adult video stores. Moreover, the question isn't whether lung cancer—or sexual assault at a strip club—has many causes; it's whether one can prove to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that cigarette smoke causes it—every single study has shown that it clearly does—or that strip clubs themselves cause rape—a highly questionable thesis.
However, Lumpkin and Reign ready with responses.
Referring to the tax as "anti-strip clubs, anti-sex industry, anti-porn," Reign noted that the message Americans will take away from the passage of the law is that, "it's just reinstating the false stereotypes that the mainstream media gives out to the audiences. Most girls believe that rape occurs from a random man in an alleyway, when the truth is, rape occurs by somebody that you usually already know casually or as an acquaintance, and there are so many sick, horrible factors why rape happens, and this is not one the main causes or correlations, and this needs to be clear."
Lumpkin expanded on the law's underlying message.
"The proponent of the bill did say specifically, 'When you have sex and you have strip clubs and you have alcohol, sometimes rape happens. I'm hoping that they'll work with me and take the stink off of their name.' 'The stink off of their name'," she emphasized. "So you have already a stigma that's associated with sex and sex work, and what I like to do a lot in my work is normalize sex. I'm very sex-positive. I want people to know that sex is a normal and natural part of life. Stripping is a great way for women to make money; it's a great way for them to have sexual empowerment and express themselves, and to have this law clumped in together only specifically targeted at strip clubs says to people, 'Okay, sex industry [equals] rape'."
At this point, Chen weighed in on what she saw as one of the unintended consequences of the law: Placing the onus for funding necessary social services on businesses rather than the taxpayer base.
"I don't think this is a very good long-term solution at all," Chen said. "I fear that this will set some sort of precedent where a problem that is really a social problem that all of us should be bearing falls upon a member of the private sector, something like a strip club or some other form of adult entertainment—it falls upon them to solve, and as we can see, the reason why [laws] like this are being offered at all is because funding for these resources are being cut."
"So let's talk about who the people who are being impacted actually are," she continued. "One, potentially the people who work at strip clubs, right? But two, lots of people who are survivors of sexual assault who can't get the services they need, and are now being told that the only way they can get funding for these services is through round-about methods where an industry which has already historically been extremely heavily regulated—I mean, the sex industry is much safer when it comes to actually practicing sex in pornography than most average Americans, so if you see how strip clubs are subject already to all kinds of zoning regulations, health regulations and all these things, why are we placing this additional burden on them for a problem that really isn't caused by strip clubs alone?"
Chen also took issue with the implication that only women are sexually assaulted, and that only women benefit from the law.
"I'm not just talking about workers," she explained. "I'm talking about all of us as a whole, and this includes male survivors of sexual assault as well, who I fear are being left out of the conversation, because typically when Americans think about strip clubs, they think about female strippers, and when they think about survivors of sexual assault, they think of female survivors of sexual assault, so I think that conversation is being completely obscured here."
McCleary attempted to minimize the burden of the tax—"It's not an undue tax; it's a very minor tax"—but even Hill picked up on the subliminal message being sent by the new law.
"I don't think anyone is so much concerned with where the funding money is going," he observed. "The question is why the undue, to use your language, Professor, attention on strip clubs, and I think there's a sense that strip clubs and sex work in general is being stigmatized socially in a way that other industries are not, and that's one of the reasons why we had self-described feminists on, because a big part of the feminist movement, particularly the third wave of feminism, argued that sex work is just that: It's work, and it's the social stigma that we attach to it that creates the criminal enterprise that surrounds it."
"[The tax] reinforces the stereotype every day," Reign added, "and every day, it's sending us these images and messages about why rape occurs, and this is not why rape occurs, and this is something that is going to go hand-in-hand and if I was a random consumer, I would watch this law and I would say, 'You know what? Good for them! Strip clubs are now providing taxes for this particular reason, and there's a correlation, and I'm just going to paint it with a big, big paintbrush.' There's no need to generalize like this."
But as the session drew to a close, Hill expanded concerns about the tax's effect even more broadly.
"I think part of the challenge for people is that it's not necessarily that it stigmatizes it as such but rather the general public is more likely to accept an unfair tax on populations that they think are unworthy of social support and protection," Hill predicted. "It's the same argument for why we have a criminal response to drug abuse rather than a medical one: It's because we've decided that smoking crack, for example, is an immoral act and so it's easy to incarcerate because nobody cares about them. It's easy to impose a tax on the sex industry because we say, 'Well, they're strippers; who cares what goes on in there anyway? Who wants to protect them?' And so we can develop less public sentiment in their favor because of it."
It's rare that the general public gets to hear such a cogent analysis of what many would dismiss as "just another tax," and to hear such intelligent and well-spoken members of the adult community expressing their views on a topic that may affect the entire nation's views on adult businesses. Kudos to whoever pushed for this segment to happen—we'll assume it's Prof. Hill—and kudos to Huffington Post Live for putting it out on the Web. It was a great public service.