Houston 'Pole Tax' on Strip Clubs to Fund Rape Kits: Club Owners Outraged

Houston's "pole tax" on strip clubs and their patrons has some Texans in an uproar. The new legislation requires $5 from the gentlemen's clubs to help fund the thousands of untested rape kits that are currently backed up.

The Houston pole tax was initially the work City Council member Ellen Cohen, who proposed the bill to help fund the testing of anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 untested rape kits. Because kits are expensive to test, costing about $1,100 per kit, between $1 million and $3 million is needed by the city annually.

In addition, Cohen feels that while not all strip club goers necessarily rape women, the sinful environment coupled with the prevalence of clubs in Houston contributes significantly in detrimental attitudes towards women.

"There are negative secondary effects associated with adult-entertainment establishments," Cohen told the Wall Street Journal.

Club owners are fighting back, however, determining that they will fight the new fees in court. The connection of strip clubs and other raunchy events like wet T-shirt contests to rape is a thin one at best, they feel.

"There is no known correlation between people going to nice, high-end gentlemen's clubs and rape," Albert Van Huff, a Houston lawyer representing the clubs, charged.

A University of Texas study done in 2009 confirms Van Huff's and his clients' position, finding that there is no correlation between alcohol, adult entertainment, and violent sexual crimes.

Strip clubs face formidable opposition, though. The new bill is supported by Houston's Mayor Annise Parker, and the City Council's vote on the issue passed 14-1. The overwhelming support could spring from the state's support of a similar "pole tax"- again, $5 per customer- for adult entertainment in Texas.

Also, victims of rape already wait considerable times for the kits to be examined. In the rape kits are hair and nail particles, blood specimens, and other bodily fluids collected by investigators. The sooner the evidence is examined, the sooner the nightmare can be over for rape victims.

The backlog of kits similarly hinders those defending themselves against rape charges; the DNA evidence found in kits could easily exonerate them from charges. Houston lawmakers say the fees are justified by the cause, and doubt that strip clubs will be endangered by the new pole tax.

"When you look at videos of these clubs and see women putting $5, $10 and $20 dollar bills in their remaining clothing, I don't think a $5 tax will hurt anybody," said council member Jack Christie.