Chicago is proposing a “skin tax” or a “vice tax” on strip clubs. As usual, the tired excuse trotted out is the unproven, much rumored, nonexistent link between sexual violence and pornography or other forms of sexual performance and sex work. Leading the charge (and getting the revenue from it) are rape crisis centers who want to insist on what they should know is a fiction, that watching porn/stripping automatically turns men into rampaging, raping heathens.
Red Eye, Chicago Tribune’s newspaperette* daily, wrote an article in Thursday’s paper about the proposed tax. While the writer of the print article quoted owners about the tax, I can’t help but notice there is not one word from the dancers themselves– not even off the record. This doesn’t help the idea, favored by sex work prohibitionists, that sex worker themselves have no voices, no thoughts independent from their “pimps” (that is, club or agency owners). No doubt, the owners will feel a pinch if this new tax is passed. But I can imagine that the dancers will feel the pinch even more, in the form of smaller tips, more negotiating, and possibly arguing with customers. I’ve never been a stripper, nor will I ever want to be, but I’ve worked in the tip-based service industry before as a waitress. New taxes often means less tips and more arguments with customers to get the tips you need to survive.
This is the problem with any and all legislation aimed toward the sex industry: workers are never asked for their point of view and how the legislation will positively or negatively affect them. Wilkins, writing a dissenting comment on the legislation says, “…to be honest it sounds like another way to shame sex industry workers…” That’s exactly correct. Few clients ever speak out against these shame tactics because they don’t want to be branded pervert and the workers affected, well, our thoughts on the issue are just plain ol’ ignored.
Democratic State Senator Toi Hutchinson claims, without a jot of irony or sarcasm, “we all need to be working toward a society that understands violence against women is inappropriate in all circumstances and all times”. Except when its against sex workers because that’s okay. Proposing a special tax on your work because of its alleged immorality only causes the worker to be further marginalized and vulnerable to further abuses. Senator, this tax IS violence against women, but just against women whose existence you are uncomfortable acknowledging. If you want to create a society (for the children, of course) that decreases violence against women, how about you propose to decriminalize all forms of sex work in Illinois so that predators do not not think sex workers are fair game for their possibly fatal perversions? So that the predators don’t practice on sex workers first before moving on to “less acceptable” targets of proper women like, oh, you? Hutchinson goes on to parrot the canard that sex + alcohol = BAD THINGS HAPPEN, yet Valentine’s Day promotions are filled with that very equation. Oh right, it’s romance, not that nasty, horrible sex! Though there is a moral brigade in India that doesn’t see the difference between romance, sex, and lust as portrayed in Valentine’s Day celebrations, though I’m sure Hutchinson and the like would balk at their Indian counterparts linking immorality and Valentine’s Day. Perhaps we should put a “skin tax” on the holiday. I’m sure there have been some horrible sexually violent Valentine’s Days for some people because of an alcohol filled date and an expectation of sex afterward.
Further proof of how this skin tax has absolutely nothing to do with “protecting women” (and everything to do with policing morality) is that the Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the main group pushing this tax, wants this ”tax where there are live shows and alcoholic beverages”. Hmm. So will this include venues such as the United Center where there are live sporting events (ie. live shows), musical shows (ie. live shows), and alcoholic beverages served, as well as an abundance of half-naked women both on stage and in the audience? I also seriously doubt that this skin tax will be held against burlesque troupes or venues (it would financially destroy many of them) because that art form is a “good” type of sexy even though it fulfills the simple-minded “sex/nudity + alcohol = bad” equation being pimped by Hutchinson and CASA. Burlesque shows are sexy, feature nudity, erotica, and I’ve never been to one that didn’t have an abundance of alcohol as well as a mixed sex/mixed gender crowd.
This is an easy and lazy way to raise much-needed funds for crisis centers and it is more than disingenuous for the sex industry alone to be blamed for rape. How many people who will support this legislation will also support legislation that puts the lives of sex workers at further risk, including rape, by pushing legal venues of sex work further and further away from populous centers, therefore more likely to attract violent predators who prefer to stalk in shadows? That creates difficulties in screening clients or approaching the police when their bodily sovereignty has actually been violated and not merely the imagined violence preferred by prohibitionists to “end demand” (ha!)? If you want to raise money for rape crisis centers and create a safer world for women, sexually active or not, how about standing up against groups that want to legislate and control reproductive rights for women based on their own narrow moral code? How about getting religious groups who claim to be concerned about the prevalence of violence against women open up the doors of their houses of worship to give rape crisis centers a place to operate from? Or better yet, donating some of that tithing money to these centers so they can continue their work?
*A word I invented just for this article. It’s a miniature daily print paper, available for free, in Chicago. Mostly focusing on entertainment, sports, and local news though more summary than in-depth coverage. But, hey, my friend-of-a-friend Anna Pulley writes for it too!