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Baring It All: Pennsylvania Lawmakers want a Registry for Strippers

AP file photo

STRIPPER REGISTRY: A Pennsylvania lawmaker has introduced a bill that would increase regulation over adult-oriented clubs, including a registry of strippers.


By Andrew Staub | PA Independent

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania – Don’t tell his wife, but Big Brother is headed to the strip club.

More than 60 state lawmakers are sponsoring a bill that would increase regulation over adult-oriented clubs, including a registry of strippers, banning alcohol and even creating a buffer zone between dancers and patrons that appears to effectively prohibit lap dances.

The main sponsor of the legislation, state Rep. Matthew Baker, R-Tioga, said he introduced the bill at the request of faith-based groups, and his intent is “to help combat sex trafficking, abuse and exploitation of women.”

But critics of the bill strip it down to the naked truth — that the legislation digs too deep into the personal lives of employees who work at strip clubs. The proposal “has cultural warrior written all over it,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which will likely oppose the idea.

The take-it-all-off nature of the bill is wrapped in irony.

“It’s extremely invasive,” Hoover said of Baker’s bill. “In an industry where people certainly would have a hope and expectation to privacy, the idea of having to register with the state to engage in a constitutionally protected activity strikes us as a form of shaming of these people who are in this industry, particularly women.”

Under the proposal, adult-orientated clubs would pay $300 to register with the Department of State. They would have to list business partners, as well as corporate officers and directors, and disclose whether anybody with “an influential interest” in the establishment has been convicted of a crime.

Employees would have to disclose more details, and of a much more personal nature.

They would pay $50 and register their full name and any aliases, including stage names. Club workers would also include their age, birthday, place of birth, height, weight, hair color, eye color, home address, telephone number and place of employment. The bill requires a statement of whether employees have been the victim of sex trafficking.

Registered employees get a photo ID, which they would have to keep at the club while working. They would present it to the Department of State or inspectors upon request.

To Baker, the bill amounts to protecting women and minors. In the text of the legislation, he paints strip clubs as havens for illicit sexual activity and crime, as well as operations that drag down the property value of their neighbors.

Photo courtesy of Ballotpedia

Photo courtesy of Ballotpedia

TAKING ON TRAFFICKING: State Rep. Matthew Baker, R-Tioga, wants to increase oversight over adult clubs to combat sex trafficking.

Baker’s bill contends “many persons, particularly women and even minors, have been exploited by being forced to work in adult-oriented establishments or in adult entertainment against their will at risk of violence or deportation.”

What Baker has proposed could be unprecedented.

Angelina Spencer is executive director of the Association of Club Executives, a national trade association for adult nightclubs. She is unaware of any other state registry for strippers and said Baker’s legislation, while having a laudable goal, would waste taxpayer money and infringe on privacy rights.

“I just don’t think that people should have to register with the government, much like a sex offender registry,” she said.

For the past five years, ACE has run an anti-sex-trafficking program known as Club Operators Against Sex Trafficking, which includes training from Homeland Security special agents, Spencer said.

Along those lines, lawmakers would be better-served by committing more money to law enforcement and non-governmental organizations to combat human trafficking and considering age-verification legislation, similar to Florida’s policy, Spencer said.

In the Sunshine State, every club must conduct an age verification on its employees and independent contractors, Spencer said. Identification must be kept on file for three years after an employee leaves and is open to inspection from law enforcement, she said.

Under Baker’s bill, a club’s failure to register or knowingly employ somebody who has not registered can lead to temporary closure, and fines are possible.

Baker, in brief comments made via email, did not respond to criticism about an invasion of privacy but noted that an amendment is in the works to ensure privacy.

Beyond the controversial registry, Baker’s bill prohibits alcohol at clubs, contending that drinking can increase sexual aggression in an already sexually charged environment. The legislation also bars nudity, unless the stripper is at least six feet from any customer and on a stage at least two feet above the floor.

Spencer quipped that the General Assembly would be better served legislating buffer zones between themselves and lobbyists.

“I never understand that — how anybody can tell two consenting adults that they have to stay a certain amount of space from each other,” she said. “I mean, c’mon. You’re going to legislate space between two people? I think money is better spent elsewhere.”

According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 76 cases of sex trafficking were reported in Pennsylvania in 2014. The top venue for the illicit activity was commercial-front brothels.

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence has not yet taken a position on the bill, according to a spokesman. The Polaris Project, a national program fighting human trafficking, did not return a message seeking comment about the bill.

The bill is scheduled to go before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday morning, but Baker said further discussion among stakeholders would delay a vote.