Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. Those are the hours that rape crisis centers work the phones and respond to victims of rape and sexual assault across Illinois.
We do not want to see a day when those phone calls go unanswered. But like so many of our human services, funding for rape crisis centers has been on the decline, with jobs lost, counseling clients wait-listed and even one center closing its doors.
That's why I am supporting Senate Bill 3348, which establishes a new revenue source for rape crisis centers. The Sexual Assault Prevention Fund would be created by charging a $5 per patron fee at strip clubs that serve alcohol, based on their correlation to negative secondary effects such as sexual abuse or rape. The fee would help rape crisis centers mitigate social ills, just like we link casino and alcohol revenues to gambling addiction treatment and underage drinking prevention.
While editorial boards decry the blight and corruption related to strip clubs and the adult entertainment industry, rape crisis advocates recognize that nude dancing is a protected form of free speech. What is not protected under our Constitution is pairing that adult entertainment with alcohol consumption. Senate Bill 3348 is rightly and tightly focused on venues that profit from those two forms of entertainment.
Research has shown sexually-oriented businesses such as strip clubs with alcohol are crime hotspots, and R.T. Finney, the president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, will tell you the same. The most recent example comes from Blackjack's Gentlemen's Club in Elgin, where owners allegedly skimmed $3.7 million from dancers and used the business as a front for an illegal bookmaking business. Crime potential is why Illinois prohibits convicted sex offenders from entering strip clubs, and zoning regulations create huge buffers between where the clubs locate and places where women, children and senior citizens live, work, play and worship.
Studies cited by state supreme courts in recent years also make a correlation between alcohol, strip clubs and social ills, such as sexual assault. A Texas Supreme Court unanimously ruled the fee was constitutional last year declaring it a "minimal restriction" that was directed at the "secondary effects of nude dancing when alcohol is being consumed." Clubs seeking to avoid the fee "need only offer nude entertainment without allowing alcohol to be consumed," Justice Nathan L. Hecht wrote for the court.
The Texas sex industry appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that that the fee violated the First Amendment. But the federal justices know when to take on a fight. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case and opened the door for other states to focus on tighter regulations. This spring, California is mulling a $10-per-patron fee at strip clubs. Utah tacks 10 percent onto everything sold at strip clubs. Still other cities and states -- including our neighbor Missouri -- have outlawed alcohol outright at the venues.
Rape crisis advocates in Illinois are taking a more reasonable approach, backing a $5-per-patron surcharge at clubs with alcohol, located in our urban, suburban and rural communities. The funds would help rape crisis centers located in at least 26 counties across the state provide critical services, including crisis assistance, emergency responder training, and violence prevention education in our schools.
The fee assessed at clubs would affect a small number of users, but have big impact on the lives of sexual assault survivors. More than 18,000 people received direct services last year, and nearly 475,000 were educated on sexual assault prevention and building healthy relationships.
Senate Bill 3348 will not only allow advocates to answer the phone when crisis strikes, but help stop violence before it starts.
Lt. Governor Simon is a former law professor and prosecutor.
Follow Sheila Simon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SheilaSimonIL