Moral Sex

City Hall Puritans crack down on sex businesses. Expect the courts to decide if the new laws are constitutional.

"We know very clearly that where sexually oriented businesses move into a neighborhood, the crime rates go up and the property values go down. . . ."

It's not clear to everyone.
In March, state lawmakers questioned the secondary-effects arguments during debate over a bill to restrict the hours of Arizona sex businesses on Sundays.

Said Christine Weason, a Phoenix Democrat: "Speaking with the police in my district, I find that there is a lot of crime on convenience stores during late hours, outside bars during late hours, in alleys during late hours, but there were not significant instances of crime around these adult-oriented businesses."

Phoenix officials provided scant evidence of secondary effects before the council voted on the new sex laws. The City Attorney's Office did submit a series of thick "Factual Reports," which primarily consist of police records of undercover operations.

But the Factual Reports prove mostly that police have busted many strippers inside sex businesses--by enforcing laws already on the books.

Phoenix vice cops, for instance, have arrested numerous performers at nude cabarets, where customers long have hired dancers to perform in private rooms. Many dancers agreed to perform acts of prostitution in those rooms, according to vice detectives.

The Factual Report on topless clubs details multiple busts where detectives observed dancers breaking the law, for example, by not covering their nipples with liquid latex. They also saw dancers simulate sex acts and grind up against customers during "table dances," one-on-one performances.

That said, the city's Factual Reports don't detail any overriding harm to the "community" at large.

Which isn't to say crime doesn't exist right outside some sex businesses. Open drug dealing and prostitution, for example, were blatant one evening in December in the parking lot of an all-nude cabaret on East Van Buren.

(Curiously, the city reports focus solely on heterosexual, male customer/female performer interactions. There are no details on what goes on at Phoenix's gay sex clubs. And there's no information about whom, if anyone, has been busted during male stripper revues, where tongue-kissing and even crotch-grabbing of performers by female patrons is commonplace.)

In 1994, Phoenix's Planning Department completed a report titled Adult Business Study--Impacts in the Early Evening/Late Morning Hours. It failed to definitively link sex businesses to an increase in crime and blight.

Assistant Phoenix planning director Joy Mee rejected the study--which had been prepared under her direction--in an affidavit filed November 18 in federal court.

"The draft document," Mee said of her own study, "was never adopted because the methodology used to produce the document was flawed and the results were not . . . valid, reliable or meaningful."

The affidavit is part of a case in which Phoenix adult-bookstore owners have challenged a new state law that would limit their hours of operation. In September, U.S. District Judge Earl Carroll issued a temporary restraining order that has prevented the city from enforcing the law.

"[The sex businesses] raise several challenges to the statute's constitutionality that are worthy of litigation," Carroll wrote. "At the outset, the court notes that the statute is . . . aimed primarily at the suppression of First Amendment rights. Therefore, any justification for the statute must be based on the alleviation of adverse secondary effects of the speech-related activities."

Phoenix's new sex laws also seem destined for such dissection.
"We will be availing ourselves of our legal rights," says Christopher Kaup, an attorney for four of the city's six swingers' clubs. "In my opinion, what the city has done is to say where, how and when and with whom citizens inside Phoenix can have sex. It's illegal and wrong."

Certainly, the city's Factual Report on the swingers' clubs is by far the least compelling.

As the report's key evidence, city officials submitted a police report about a pair of underage brothers who watched porno movies after using fake ID cards to gain entry to a club called Impressions. They also included a recent police memo in which a vice cop describes couples in the clubs having unprotected sex.

Officials also presented an unsigned pamphlet of unknown origin addressed to Councilman John Nelson. Titled Citizen Alert, it hurled allegations at the sex businesses, including:

"Many times, topless dancers illegally contract with clientele to meet at these [swingers'] establishments. Prohibiting these clubs limits the spread of disease (to unwitting spouses, future partners) and will increase the property values of those who live by this blight."

The anonymous author listed no sources, and Nelson--chairman of the council's subcommittee on Ethics and Public Safety--required none. He did not respond to more than a dozen requests from New Times for an interview.

Rimsza, who likes to portray himself as a politician willing to speak with all comers, also declined to explain his rationale.

The mayor, according to a spokesman, "has already said all he has to say about the subject."

At the December 9 public hearing, all the mayor had to say about the sex laws was "yes," when it was his turn to vote.

For venerable Phoenix lawyer Dick Hertzberg, the current climate on the city's sex industry is as predictable as the summer heat.

"Here's how it is," says Hertzberg, an expert in First Amendment law. "Every five years or so, some elected official gets revved up, and off they go. Sex businesses make an easy target for politicians. The police are gonna do what they're gonna do--enforce the law. Vice cops are basically honest, and it's not that hard to find violations of some sort. But cracking down on sex is always political first."

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