Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Secondary Effects: Real. Important.


The initial round of news stories regarding Councilwoman Smith's initiative to regulate the city's adult entertainment industry isn't at all awful, especially considering the complex narrative and the legal trade-offs involved in the proposal.

What is being overlooked thus far -- and maybe this is partially our fault -- is any meaningful consideration of the "secondary effects" which accompany poorly regulated or unregulated sexually oriented businesses. So here are some resources.

Secondary Effects Research
is run by a group of university social scientists and criminologists. There is more than a tiny bit to read, but basically you will find one theme: we are contending with statistically significant increases in certain kinds of crime, and decreases in property values. Another good resource has been compiled by the Community Defense Council.

Why should such a correlation exist? Adult businesses, so the theory goes, attract patrons from a very wide area, predominantly male, prone to vice overtures, with lots of money in their pockets, who are frequently ill-inclined to report crime incidents for fear of embarrassment of some kind. Ideal targets, basically. Now add to this the social effects of promoting the type of business which promotes lap dances or couch dances, from subcontracted and off-book employees, behind closed doors, in the dark, where anything else might be provided or traded. Basically you are assembling all the ingredients for a regional crime node.

Unfortunately, especially in the cases of some smaller and independent strip clubs, that can make up a big part of the attraction of going into business in the first place.

Residents have objected to this on these grounds for some time. What we are discovering, going back into the Council archives, is that people have rarely gone into Chambers bewailing sin and corruption. Quite the contrary, they have been leery of attracting a "bad element," and making it that much harder to rehabilitate their business corridors and attract homeowners. It has always been a micro-scale chamber of commerce issue.

Here is one easy to read, peer-reviewed study from Garden Grove to get you all started; here is another, on a slightly different subject matter, from Minneapolis (language on page 14 quite NSFW).

What we can already say about Pittsburgh based on an analysis of five years of local crime data is that we are seeing significantly higher incidences of:

  • Burglary
  • Larceny
  • Robbery
  • Vandalism
  • Vehicle Theft

...across the board in the areas surrounding our local adult cabarets, which corresponds perfectly with secondary effects theory.

I hope this long exposition is not presently robbing some reporter out there of enthusiasm for writing about this, as is sometimes known to happen. That would be a shame, because concern over the secondary effects surrounding sexually oriented businesses isn't just an important part of this story. It's the entire story.

38 comments:

  1. Great job, Bram! I am thrilled with the way you researched, engaged folks, wrote and most of all, I am thankful for your most difficult task....preparing me! You are great!
    Can you believe, you even have me sending a response to your blog!?! :)
    I am confident that your work is leading you to a new career path!

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  2. "New career path"? I'd settle for one period! It's such a pleasant and novel experience being constructive! Thanks again for the opportunity.

    Aside from the fact that this is one of the bravest moves I've seen a Member make in some time, it's been a special privilege getting to watch you work with so many people -- the Mayor's office, the Law Dept, the Council President, each and every member of Council, City Planning, the Police ... not to mention your constituents ... I'm sure some people will not think it's possible. :)

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  3. We will talk when you come in about that path.

    Thank you for the nice comments.

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  4. This is very needed legislation. Currently the City doesn't have many options. Get this through asap.

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  5. I agree that this is needed. I also like Shields's thing about the massage places. Would those fall under the licensing portion of this regulation?

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  6. MH - No, the two are separate. If both pieces of legislation pass, it might make sense for the City to conduct both licensing efforts from the same government subunit, but that's out of my league. The criterion for licensure for each initiative seem to be pretty different.

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  7. That makes sense. The criteria should be difference since there's some kind of training for massage.


    I'd think you could support Smith's proposal from a straight tax collection/employment law point of view. No way to be sure the city gets its $60 (or whatever it is) given a potentially transitory workforce and cash payment.

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  8. how much in settlement will the city pay out on this one?

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  9. Anon 3:08:

    Probably less than when our drilling ban gets invalidated.

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  10. Nothing like a pat on the back from the boss. Sure beats a lap dance!

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  11. Who would want to go to strip club with bright lighting and a six foot buffer zone around the entertainers? The zoning changes seem appropriate but some of the other aspects of this bill are overbearing. Why should Theresa Smith be telling consenting adults what they can and cannot do with one another?

    Not too long ago gay bars were subject to police oppression; is the instant case morally distinguishable?

    Is there a statistically significant difference between the amount of crime associated with a strip club as opposed to an ordinary bar?

    Universities and Steeler games also generate an increase in criminal activity, shall we ban them too from our City?

    People need to get a grip and Council should consider tackling some bigger issues like public finance, our environment, transit, libraries and schools, metropolitan consolidation, et al. instead of trying to score cheap political points with their prudish constituents.

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  12. Who would want to go to strip club with bright lighting and a six foot buffer zone around the entertainers?

    If the lights are bright, you don't need to get that close of a view. Dim lighting and a six foot buffer would hurt lonely, near-sighted men.

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  13. Anon 9:55 asks: "Why should Theresa Smith be telling consenting adults what they can and cannot do with one another?"

    If that was an argument in favor of legalizing prostitution, Anon 9:55, it would be tough to argue with. However seeing as how that still is a crime and it's not about to change, then just as we see in the illicit drug trade an illicit (or with a wink-and-a-nod) sex trade brings with it a host of problems -- important problems for a neighborhood. I don't think it's "prudish" to want to keep burglary, theft, and vandalism to a minimum in our own communities, and to desire a decent chance of flipping a house.

    I'd like to respond to something in today's Trib:

    "'Let's put blinders on everybody so they can't see,' said Jeff Levy, of the Philadelphia-based Pennsylvania Hospitality and Entertainment Association. 'People should be able to look at a woman dance naked if they want.'"

    Actually, we're turning up the lights. We're making it easier to see the naked ladies. Nothing -- not a single thing -- in the legislation interferes with anybody seeing red hot sweaty action right in front of you, night after night.

    So I wonder then, why it is that trade officials are demanding darkness, private rooms, closed doors and the right to have off-book subcontractors sit or lie on their customers in same?

    Is that speech? Is that expression? Is that something we're obligated to allow within our community if it attracts a disruptive element from all over?

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  14. MH at June 7 9:29 - Employment / tax law was actually something we were very interested in early on. Unfortunately, with everything else we were contending with, that turned out to be just too much innovation to be practical. We wound up going with standardized Posted Notices of employee and manager Right and Responsibilities instead to address these concerns.

    However if somebody can bring to the table some good employment law that firms up the relationship between these subcontractors (who now often have to pay for the privilege of performing, and then somehow earn their way out of that nightly deficit) and their bosses, I think we'd be amenable to cutting out some other regulations designed to be protective.

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  15. I think the licensing of entertainers is a problematic part of this legislation. Now I know that the reason for such licensing is that the city will need a source of revenue to monitor the proposals it puts into place but this seems better provided by club-owners than entertainers themselves. The reason for this is that formal licensing tends to keep people in a certain industry - it makes it more difficult to do this kind of work part time and, when the shame factor of going down to city hall is added in, it presents an obstacle to those who are considering trying work like this.

    Indeed, I think a certain kind of shame factor will figure heavily in the debate on this issue and make it appear more one-sided than it really is. It is one thing to stand up for the rights of consenting adults in an anonymous public forum, it is quite another to stand up in city council chambers and give a compelling argument for why personal contact in this industry is a right that the state shouldn't interfere with. I don't know of anyone who would be willing to have their name and face associated with such a position to be rebroadcast on public TV and the city's website.
    I hope for this reason that student groups at our universities and other interested parties do organize in opposition to this. It is not that I necessarily oppose this legislation -though licensing and a prohibition on contact go too far IMO - but rather I suspect that such organized opposition and the face-saving it provides will be instrumental in giving the city a real debate on this issue.

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  16. clean up the mess in Esplen before you worry about strip clubs

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  17. Ouch. 15-40. Though I think in this business you need to be able to multitask.

    By the way speaking of Esplen: http://is.gd/GCwIpY According to an e-mail, Deloitte + RenewPgh are going to be doing "vacant lot conversions" in Esplen among other things. Talk about your creative financing.

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  18. Adult oriented businesses attract arsonists for employees. It was in the news.

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  19. Oh geez you mean this:

    http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/s_377884.html

    I don't think the investigators ever turned up anything. Interesting though in 2005 the Trib just referred to it as a "nightclub".

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  20. Or geez, you probably meant this, ripped from today's headlines:

    http://www.wpxi.com/news/28179898/detail.html

    Still only alleged.

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  21. When I first heard, I figured maybe somebody found a big loophole in the Rule of Benedict.

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  22. Also, when the club in question is called "Butta Bing" I don't think anybody wonders what type of club it was.

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  23. And of course, adult businesses are deadly for clergy, just ask Marty Griffin.

    Nice shot of Councilwoman Kail-Smith in PG today, BTW. Looked hard for a quote from Bram, butt couldn't find it.

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  24. anyone remember the massage parlor wars of the 80's...Tex Gill Bobby Pugh, dead strippers arson...the good ole days

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  25. Some years back, East Carnegie fought off a proposal for a Strip Club that Scott Township favored, since it was in their back yard. However, it would be in our front yard, and so would the riff raff be...trust me, if its in your community, one won't such consider concerns "prudish".

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  26. This legislation would clearly increase the quality of performances by male and female adult entertainers, as the gratuity amount is inversely proportional to the distance between the entertainer and the entertained.

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  27. Rick Moody - Those "front yard" / gateway / neighborhood reputation concerns have always been a big part of the perpetual embarrassment of some over the prominence / seeming importance of Club Erotica to the Borough of McKees Rocks.

    Though it sounds like your chief concern Rick is the "riff raff", which just goes to show this isn't rocket science or discovering the Missing Link. I was reminded during a conversation last night that drug dealing in and around the scuzzier clubs is a significant concern, though harder to quantify in terms of arrests and emergency reports.

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  28. As a current professional in the mental health field, I've also seen first hand, what negative effects local strip clubs can bring to those individuals without impulse control. Not to curb developers due to an individual's issues, but,it's worth mentioning just like anything else. (At leat for those humanists out there).As far as those gateways go: Lets be real,they only get proposed in neigborhoods deemed less important or inferior. Is there a strip club being thought about in Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, Regent Square, (boroughs) of Peters, Mt. Lebo,ect...hell no! It's elitism spun by development. Too bad that notion too has always been a big perpetual embarassment.

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  29. If that were a Facebook comment Rick, I'd "Like" it. :)

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  30. Thanks, lol. Good research, you did!

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  31. FYI, I'm also impressed by your descriptors here. "Scuzzier"...what a great adjective to bring the point of my thoughts home! HA!

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  32. Jeepers Bram, look who went to the "other side" in terms of Candidate Smith to Councilmember Smith.

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  33. Awwwww, ha ha ha! No denying that Mark, you got me there. :o)

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  34. Does Mr. Shawn Carter think that drilling should be allowed within the city limits?

    Also...why won't your boss participate in the Pride Magazine ad? I noticed his picture was absent once again.

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  35. Anon June 8 12:10 - Every once in a while I check my "spam" comments folder, and this time I discovered yours there. I don't know why it got flagged and went unpublished for so long; I'm sure you must have gotten the impression I was hiding it! So sorry.

    As of yet there is no charge specified for the employee licensure (club licensure has been specified and is on the hefty side). The motivation behind employee licensure was never to provide a funding stream for enforcement (we don't anticipate enforcement costs will be significant). The licensing rather is to provide a *mechanism* for enforcement; something to suspend, and something the clubs themselves need to watch for to help them avoid contracting persons as dancers with certain specified criminal histories.

    That said -- I'd argue quite a bit that non-contact is a very legitimate, reasonable and beneficial regulation for this hazardous work environment. Employee licensing, eh, I'd argue maybe a bit less, but that'd make managerial licensure more of a priority.

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  36. I still can't figure out how the proposed changes inside clubs will equal less burglary, theft, vandalism and higher home values out of clubs. Are men being aroused to larcenous extremes? Are unlicensed strippers mugging men in alleys between sets then hiding in the dim anonymity of champagne rooms? Will the transient baddies be scared off by my brightly lit stretch marks? How about plenty of well lit and monitored parking (even better would be available cabs so tourists don't have to wander around a strange city after closing)?
    Licensing and registries sound like terrible ideas for many reasons: they open up dancers to harassment and stalking (anyone can get your driving or criminal record if they know a policeman... and that's everyone). License applications will most likely show up on background checks when dancers (inevitably) retire and pursue "legit" careers and (as evidenced by this proposed preemptive sex offender registry) strippers are universally vilified. Why would you want to make it impossible for strippers to stop stripping? Why would you want to eliminate one of the few safe and legal job options for women with criminal records? If a woman is applying to work as a stripper and she's been previously charged with prostitution or drug dealing, this isn't the option we should discourage.
    A "no contact" ban would only work if it was done nation wide and if someone could figure out how to enforce it uniformly (and eliminate human being's need for physical contact, some sort of hormone therapy perhaps?). If only the down town Pittsburgh clubs disallow contact, customers would drive an extra three minutes to get to a club that allowed it.
    P.S.: I beg you, on behalf of strippers everywhere, not to turn up the lights. We are almost all mothers and humans with physical flaws. Standing on stage naked in front of strangers takes enough guts in flattering light.

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  37. michellemarie15108@yahoo.comJuly 7, 2011 at 11:27 PM

    I still can't figure out how the proposed changes in clubs will equal less burglary, theft and vandalism (and higher home values) out of clubs. Are men being aroused to larcenous extremes? Are unlicensed strippers mugging men in alleys between sets then hiding in the dim anonymity of champagne rooms? Are the transient baddies scared off by brightly lit nudity? How about plenty of well lit and monitored parking (even better would be available cabs so tourists don't have to wander around a strange city after closing)?
    Licensing and registries sound like a terrible ideas for many reasons: they open up dancers to harassment and stalking (anyone can get your driving or criminal record if they know a policeman..and that's everyone). License applications will most likely show up on background checks when dancers (inevitably) retire and pursue "legit" careers. Why would you want to make it impossible for strippers to stop stripping? Why would you want to eliminate one of the few safe and legal job options for women with criminal records? If a woman is applying to work as a stripper and she's been previously charged with prostitution or drug dealing, this isn't the option we should discourage.
    A "no contact" ban would only work if it was done nation wide and if someone could figure out how to enforce it uniformly (and eliminate human being's need for physical contact, perhaps through some sort of hormone therapy). If only the down town Pittsburgh clubs disallow contact, customers would drive an extra three minutes to get to a club that allowed it.
    P.S. I beg you, on behalf of strippers every where, not to turn up the lights. We are mostly mothers and humans with physical flaws. Standing on stage naked in front of strangers takes enough guts in flattering light.

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