Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pulling the curtain on public indecency

Traveling has a way of opening one's horizon to happenings in other parts of the country, but when the entire family sallies forth on adventure, unsuspecting exposure sometimes make for a teachable, if not uncomfortable, moment. Such was the case recently for me and my family while traveling through Georgia and Florida where imposing billboards advertising strippers lined several of the major exits. It wasn't quite Mardi Gras, but then again we weren't heading to the Big Easy. We were on a family vacation to South Florida, and despite the beckoning billboards—gaudy as they were, visiting a strip club wasn't in the family plans.

At one time, strip clubs were illegal and relegated to the seedy side of big cities, but now they've gone mainstream, so much so that they're aggressively marketed on our Interstates. So how do you explain to an eight-year-old what's going on? Of course, spare them the details, but isn't it ironic that most eight-year-olds already know there's something wrong with adults taking off all their clothes in public for pay?

Proliferation of strip clubs is largely due to lack of regulations and a misunderstanding that such activity falls under First Amendment free speech protections. According to a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which allowed a Kentucky county ordinance to stand, stripping is a regulable activity and public nudity is not a protected right. The court of public opinion agrees. That's why scores of Kentucky local governments have passed solid regulations in recent years.

Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee regulate strip clubs but Kentucky is, ahem, exposed to these businesses because it lacks statewide regulations. So why doesn't Kentucky have a statewide law regulating strip clubs?
Detractors argue that the state has better things to do than regulate strip clubs.


The state regulates activity relating to public health and safety all the time. In fact, government is charged with preserving the health and safety of the community—something that strip clubs jeopardize. Consider that between Jan. 1, 2002 and Feb. 11, 2004, Covington police made a total of 469 calls to sexually oriented businesses in the city. The charges included robbery, assault, fraud, malicious mischief, public intoxication, prostitution and possession of illegal drugs.

The behavior inside unregulated strip clubs not only borders on illegal, but they serve as a magnet for other criminal activity. Without basic regulations and inspections, some of Kentucky's biggest strip clubs will continue to operate with a "wild west, anything goes mentality" that will ruin good communities. The ball is now in the court of state lawmakers and our leaders need to ask: What message are we sending to our neighbors?

For the last dozen years, legislative efforts in Frankfort to regulate Kentucky strip clubs have failed. The Kentucky Senate has passed strip club restrictions four years in a row only to have their measure die in the House. This year, the effort is being pushed in the House where four members are working for passage of HB 413 which would ban total nudity and prohibit sexual activity inside strip clubs. The bill would be a deterrent to illegal activity and a good step for preserving the health and safety of Kentucky communities. If passed, HB 413 would also serve as a billboard for the rest of the country that Kentucky women won't be abused and exploited on stage for profit.

Now, wouldn't that be a good sign?

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