Lawmaker Who Wants a Stripper Registry Tells His Story

He says the media has been unfair: "It's as if some believe that adult businesses should be given a pass."

Rep. Matt Baker | Photo courtesy of Baker's office

Rep. Matt Baker | Photo courtesy of Baker’s office

State Rep. Matt Baker, a Republican who represents the county home to the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania,” wants to do something that is awfully Big Government.

He is proposing legislation that would require strippers and other workers in the adult entertainment industry to provide a boatload of information — their name, stage name, address, phone number, date of birth, place of birth, height, weight, hair color, eye color, criminal background information, trafficking status and photo ID — to a government registry. The bill would also bar alcohol from strip clubs and force customers and nude dancers to remain six feet apart at all times.

Baker, as well as a Christian group known as the Pennsylvania Family Institute that helped draft the legislation, claim that their goal is to prevent sex trafficking, a/k/a adults and children being coerced or forced into prostitution and other sex work against their will. How the heck would a state registry do that? Is this just a Trojan horse intended to put strip clubs out of business? And why on Earth, as the Philadelphia City Paper reported, did Baker not consult the strippers he purports to care about so deeply before introducing the bill?

We, like several dancers, the American Civil Liberties Union and advocates for sex workers, had a lot of questions. So we put them to Baker. He responded to all of them (well, except one) via email.

PhillyMag: Why do you want to create a registry of workers at strip clubs and other adult establishments? If it is indeed to “protect women and minors particularly from being exploited and abused,” as you told the Philadelphia Inquirer, how exactly would a registry prevent sex trafficking? Please be specific.

Baker: Persons who are victims of human trafficking, particularly woman, are often forced into sexual servitude. That may involve prostitution under the guise of an escort service or being forced to work in a strip club. Traffickers capitalize on the high demand for these services, the cash nature of the business, but most importantly, the anonymity of the participants.

The recent case involving the woman who was lured to New Jersey and forced to perform as a stripper in Philadelphia illustrates how this legislation would assist in preventing that from happening and uncovering others who may be victimized as well.

The woman in question was lured to the East Coast on a promise of a modeling job. As soon as she arrived in New Jersey, her identification and cell phone were taken. She was then taken to a strip club and forced to perform. Had the legislation been in effect, the strip club would have been required to determine that she was of age and properly registered with the state to work there. If a victim was not registered, the trafficker would lose the opportunity to force the victim to work in those types of businesses. Even if the victim were forced to register with the state, or was registered by the trafficker, the registration process  will require proof of identity. That removes the anonymity element. A record would be on file with the Department of State connecting the victim to the place where she was “employed.” Records of others working for the same establishment would be available as well.

It is highly likely that someone who forces another into sexual servitude has put other woman in the same position. Once the woman was identified as a victim in this case, the perpetrator could easily remove other victims from working in the same or similar place. Law enforcement would have a difficult time finding those persons because most operate under stage names. By requiring registration, the database would make the identity of other potential victims readily available to law enforcement. If the trafficker tried to force them to work in another establishment, that information would be available.

This is just once scenario of how registration will assist in investigations, making it easier to prosecute offenders and identify victims. Like any criminal investigation, the availability of information linking people to other people and places is invaluable.

PhillyMag: Who would have access to the registry? What would these parties do with it?

Baker: Registration information would be available to the Department of State for official use. The department would have the responsibility to review the registration application and determine whether the person applying meets the age and other requirements for registration. The information would also be available to law enforcement for investigative purposes.

PhillyMag: Would the registry be available for the public to view under the state’s public records law?

Baker: No. An amendment will be offered to preclude public access.

PhillyMag: How would barring liquor sales or requiring strippers to be six feet away from customers prevent sex trafficking?

Baker: Prohibiting liquor and requiring that a minimum distance from a customer be maintained is to protect employees from the risks that decreased inhibitions because of alcohol consumption and close contact between performers and customers presents.

PhillyMag: Why does the bill include a $50 registration fee? Would each worker pay that?

Baker: No. An amendment to the bill will eliminate the fee for workers.

PhillyMag: Philadelphia City Paper reported that the Pennsylvania Family Institute said no strippers were consulted prior to the bill’s introduction. Is that true? If so, why didn’t you talk to them?

Baker: The industry has been actively involved in making their views of the legislation known. Trade groups representing adult entertainment businesses have written several letters and have employed lobbyists to make their case about it. The purpose of the bill is to protect the workers from being victimized. If a person is the victim of servitude, and forced to work in an establishment, I would not expect they would be in a position to freely express their views.

PhillyMag: It has also been reported that you have never been to a strip club. Is that true?

Baker: [Baker did not respond to this question, despite repeated inquiries by PhillyMag.]

PhillyMag: What is the next step for the bill?

Baker: The bill is currently undergoing review in the House Judiciary Committee. As I noted, there will be several amendments to it before the committee calls it up for a vote. If approved in Judiciary, the bill will be considered by the House.

PhillyMag: What would you say to critics who believe that your bill is a Trojan horse intended to shut down strip clubs?

Baker: I would say that the role of government is to ensure individual freedom by protecting those who may be injured, exploited or otherwise harmed by the actions of others. There are many examples of where government has used registration and licensing to balance the freedom to engage in an enterprise against the harm that may result. We require licenses for many professions as well as for drivers of cars. The licensing requirements help regulate the activity to help minimize the harm that can result. This is not different. This proposal will not in any way impede those who work in the legitimate adult entertainment field from continuing to do so, but will help protect those who have not had the ability to make that choice of their own free will.

PhillyMag: Do you think the media coverage of your legislation has been fair?

Baker: The news reporting has not always seemed fair. It’s as if some believe that adult businesses should be given a pass and that they are in denial that it is even possible that human trafficking and sexual exploitation does not exist within their establishments. But simply because of perceptions some give to adult entertainment does not mean we should not make every good faith effort to protect workers in this industry or do all we can to ensure that persons are not being trafficked in these premises. And to that end, we continue to seek the input of all stakeholders so that we can give the greatest protections to those who work in this industry.

Our hope is to see this bill move forward as one more effective tool in the effort to end human trafficking that is a form of modern day slavery that leads to sexual abuse and exploitation of women and girls.

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