Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Houston's New Sin Tax

Houston politicians seem intent recently on running anyone they find undesirable out of town. First it was the noise ordinance and bans on feeding the homeless, and now it is making stripe clubs solely responsible for ending the city's rape kit backlog. Maybe the city council thinks it is "cleaning up" our city, but somewhere along the line they forgot that homeless people are still human beings deserving of respect, that arbitrary and subjective noise bans are likely unconstitutional, and that the Catholic Church, the military, schools, prisons, athletic organizations, and the police are all directly responsible for more rapes than a strip club.

The flaws in the noise ordinance and food sharing ban have already been covered in detail, but the rape kit backlog hits a lot closer to home for me. I've been raped. I have friends who have been raped. If we go through the grueling process of coming forward and subjecting ourselves to a rape kit, then we deserve to have the evidence help speak for us. The rape kit backlog across the country is absolutely horrifying, and it helps to keep more victims from coming forward. If the powers that be don't test the kits anyway, and therefore the case goes nowhere, then what's even the point?

I completely agree with Ellen Cohen that the city's rape kit back log is something that desperately needs to be addressed, but a sin tax is not the way to solve the problem. For one thing, it's likely that some of the $5 per customer charge will trickle down into the fees dancers have to pay to be on stage. The Houston city council members voted for this tax because they find this particular line of work, and it's customers, distasteful. What they (maybe) don't realize is that they are also effectively saying that women who work in this industry and are also rape victims deserve to have to pay for their own justice. This is also the second "pole" tax that Cohen has put forward. The money from that, earmarked for programs to help sexual assault victims, has been tied up in litigation since the first measure passed. This new tax will likely go down a similar route. Cohen knows that not a dime of this legislation will go towards alleviating the backlog for years, if ever. Yet she still claims that this tax is for victims. Her reasoning behind passing the tax (that there is a direct link between strip clubs and sexual assault) has never been proven, even in the study commonly cited. The thinking behind this measure is the same that went behind our (thankfully now overturned) bans on sodomy and sex toys, that since "good" people don't do these things, we don't have to worry when we punish the "bad" even if they're not actually doing anything wrong.

I am not naive. I know that the adult entertainment industry is not all sunshine and roses and all about empowering women. Sexual trafficking and assault do exist, and they exist in the industry. Those aspects need to be dealt with and shut down, but strip clubs are not responsible for the rape kit backlog, here or anywhere else in the country. They should not then shoulder the responsibility for the city's fuck up. And it is the city's fuck up. If the city council actually cares about this backlog and the people who are now being victimized a second time because of it they would make room in the city budget for it. They don't, so they won't.