The city of Houston is turning to an unusual source to help fund rape investigations: strip clubs.
The City Council passed an ordinance Wednesday that requires strip clubs to pay a $5-per-visitor fee to help pay for the analysis of biological evidence collected from rape victims in hopes of identifying their attackers.
Police in Houston, 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 Ms. 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.