Houston City Council Passes New Pole Tax

Houston’s City Council passed an ordinance Wednesday that requires strip clubs to pay a $5-per-visitor pole tax to help fund the analysis of biological evidence collected from rape victims in hopes of identifying their attackers.

City police and in many other parts of the U.S. lack the money to promptly analyze evidence such as hair particles and blood specimens, gathered by investigators in packets known as rape kits.

Houston estimates it has 6,000 rape kits that have yet to be scrutinized by crime laboratories.

Supporters of the ordinance, which was supported by Mayor Annise Parker and approved on a 14-1 vote, contend that strip clubs should shoulder some of the costs of rape investigations because the establishments can cultivate unhealthy attitudes toward women that can lead to sexual assaults.

“There are negative secondary effects associated with adult-entertainment establishments,” said Ellen Cohen, the council member who championed the ordinance, which could generate up to $3 million in annual revenue.

The fee would also apply to clubs that stage occasional adult entertainment, such as “a wet T-shirt contest or naked sushi contest,” according to the ordinance, which states all the revenue is to go toward processing rape kits.

There are an estimated 30 clubs subject to the tax, according to Cohen’s chief of staff.

Critics strongly question attempts to tie strip clubs to violence against women, calling the fee unfair. “There is no known correlation between people going to nice, high-end gentlemen’s clubs and rape,” said Albert Van Huff, a Houston lawyer who represents local strip clubs.

A 2009 report by the University of Texas at Austin concluded that no study has “authoritatively linked alcohol, sexually oriented businesses, and the perpetration of violence.”

Of the 6,000 Houston kits, police don’t believe they all would yield useful evidence. In some cases, for example, the victim has decided not to press charges.

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