Strip club tax would perpetuate stereotypes about men and women

By Gabrielle Rosas

Unless you’re highballing in Las Vegas, strip clubs are usually gross, seedy places that are best avoided. Something about women feigning sexual interest in a man for money is not my idea of quality entertainment. But such is the way of the adult entertainment industry.

A new statewide proposal would require strip clubs that sell alcohol or allow patrons to bring their own to pay $5 admission tax for each customer, with a portion of the generated revenue going to pay for rape,  and sexual harassment prevention and support programs.

While I would be a detestable human being to say that rape and sexual assault are not tremendous societal issues, the implications of this proposed law, sponsored by Illinois Sen. Toi Hutchinson and endorsed by Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, are too many to ignore.

There is very little evidence that strip clubs encourage rape or that the men who visit strip clubs are more likely to be rapists. While crimes such as prostitution and aggravated assault do happen at strip clubs, they also happen at other establishments serving alcohol.

In Ogden, Utah, 2010 police data shows that the average crime rate at strip clubs in the area was no more than that of other nearby adult entertainment businesses.

Hutchinson said, “Violence against women is never appropriate,” and that is a valid statement every man should follow. But strip clubs don’t promote violence against women. Objectification, yes. Patrons are known to become belligerent toward the performers when they get drunk, but doesn’t that happen at any place that serves booze? I was once at a Chili’s when a middle-aged businessman took off his shirt and approached a woman at the bar. Last I checked, I go to Chili’s for cheeseburgers, not strippers.

If strip clubs have to pay this tax, then other business serving alcohol should, too. If bars had to follow this proposal, they would suffer a huge loss of customers, not to mention a lot of angry young drinkers on tight budgets. Chances are bars will have to raise cover charges and drink prices or charge a cover if they don’t already.

“One can’t single out strip clubs as promoting women’s objectification,” said anthropologist Katherine Frank. But a majority of the population does, and it boils down to more than strip clubs. Frankly, it would be similar to bars across Illinois—luxurious ones and not so luxurious ones—paying a tax that funds alcoholism support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.  In essence, it’s implying that bar owners and customers are more likely to be alcoholics; a dangerous fallacy.

I’m a college student. I enjoy whiskey, vodka, beer and occasionally a Long Island iced tea. Sure, I go to bars and have my fun. Does that mean I’m more likely to become a raging alcoholic? Probably not.

The entire proposal is a double-edged sword. The tax would help millions of women and men who have been victims of rape and other forms of sexual assault. No sane person would say that donating money to related nonprofit organizations isn’t important.

Some of my female friends have been victims of violent rape and sexual assault, and it affects them to this day,  though the incidents occurred years ago.  Even more unfortunate, state funding to rape and sexual assault support centers has decreased 27 percent in the last five years, according to Simon.

I wish I could get behind this tax, but the cons outweigh the pros. The money would be going to a wonderful cause that could help young people face the taboos and misunderstandings surrounding rape. But implying strip club patrons are more likely to rape or sexually assault is a baseless accusation and relies on generalizations of both sexes.

As much as I loathe strip clubs for various reasons, they are not just places of debauchery; they are private business that make revenue and are places of employment. Many women decide to dance on the side to get through college.

What this really boils down to is society’s perception of women and their sexuality. Many of the women who are strippers choose to do so, for reasons that range from ethical to extremely dubious. But the fact is that it is their choice. Imposing a tax on the strip clubs will also affect these women, as well as bouncers and bartenders.

And I’m just going to go ahead and say it: If a woman chooses to be a stripper, then that’s fine with me. Men objectify their genitals all the time. Go to any Spencer’s or a sex shop and BOOM: penises galore. Is that not also objectification? The tax simply perpetuates stereotypes about both men and women.

Once again, it isn’t that I don’t want to support rape victims. In fact, it is an issue I’m extremely passionate and angry about. But there are other ways to do it than taxing private business and infringing on freedom of expression. If the government truly wants to help rape victims, then it is time to demystify rape and help both men and women understand why it is damaging. In other words, the U.S. desperately needs to implement a paradigm shift. Once influential stereotypes are completely eradicated, then strip clubs can be seen for what they really are: entertainment. Women are objectified everywhere: the workplace, the grocery store, the el and the classroom.

Hutchinson’s proposal has good intentions and that is commendable. But it would be detrimental to businesses  and punish some people who have never committed a sex-related crime.