Pole Tax: Fees at Houston’s Strip Clubs Will Help Rape Victims

A tax on stripper poles in Houston will help rape victims.

Next time your partner says he’s (or she’s) heading to a strip club and supporting women at the same time, you may have to skip the eyeroll — at least if you live in Houston.

The city recently instituted a Pole Tax. That’s right, a tax on stripper poles. Here’s how it works: Patrons visiting strip clubs and other adult hotspots will have to drop an extra $5 to get in. More than a morality fee, this tax is actually really cool because Houston’s City Council will use the revenue to examine rape kits.

In Houston, according to The Wall Street Journal, there are about 6,000 rape kits in police custody waiting to be tested — each test will cost about $1,100 to complete. And the city anticipates pulling in $3 million in the first year of the tax. That’s a lot of singles.

Opponents are against the tax because there’s no proven connection between strip clubs and rape statistics. Maybe not, but some think that the sexualization of women is a good enough connection to justify the tax, including Ellen Cohen, the council member who led the charge to get this ordinance passed. “There are negative secondary effects associated with adult-entertainment establishments,” she told the Wall Street Journal.

The debate about whether visiting strip clubs makes some men more inclined to sexually assault women makes for great headlines, but this use of tax revenue really isn’t that unusual. In fact, a state law passed in Texas in 2007 added a $5 Pole Tax on strip clubs. That revenue can also be used to pay for testing rape kits.

And with many taxes, there’s an indirect connection between the taxed item and the way the money is used. In Illinois, cigarette taxes just went up $1 because, according to Gov. Pat Quinn, the hike is necessary to save Medicaid. Is he saying diseases caused by smoking are the reason we need Medicaid? No. Is it true that some people who use Medicaid smoke? Yes. In the same way, some rape cases might be connected to strip clubs. Many are not.

Regardless, this is a smart tax that could help lots and lots of women, and calling it the Pole Tax brings national attention to the fact that there are thousands of untested rape kits sitting in police stations across the country. Scaled nationally, this tax could help close a lot of cases —and, given that they work for tips, the dancers probably won’t miss the patrons who won’t shell out the extra $5 to get in the door.

Photo: brh_images