If you’re an exotic dancer working in the Keystone State, social conservatives will tell you that a new bill they’re pushing could save your life and help fight exploitation. Civil libertarians will tell you that the measure would make a mockery of your most basic privacy rights and potentially put you in danger.
The proposed legislation, now being considered in the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee, would require dancers at strip clubs to register with the Department of State. The registry, which would be available to law enforcement, would include the names, stage names, birthdays, addresses, places of employment, phone numbers, and other personal details of strippers working in Pennsylvania. The law also would effectively ban lap dances and the sale of alcoholic beverages at strip joints, as part of the effort to protect female employees.
Proponents, such as the Pennsylvania Family Institute, a Christian organization that fights for “traditional” marriage, maintain that the bill and registry would give law enforcement more muscle to combat human trafficking and sexual abuse in the state’s adult-entertainment industry.
Critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, aren’t so impressed.
“It’s funny at first, but the authors of the bill have serious intentions, so it’s worth taking seriously,” Jim Harper, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who jokingly declared himself the libertarian think tank’s resident “stripper-registration expert” for the day, told The Daily Beast. “The security challenge here is that bad people could do seriously bad things with a registry of adult entertainers. I would worry about whose hands it might fall into, or how it is maintained by the state…There are more precisely tailored ways to address the problem [of exploitation and sexual abuse] without creating privacy and security risks for the very women you are trying to protect.”
The ACLU, for its part, is urging Pennsylvania lawmakers and advocacy groups to support instead “safe harbor” legislation aimed at aiding underage victims of the sex trade. (The Pennsylvania Family Institute does support “safe harbor,” as well.)
“It’s extremely invasive,” Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, told Watchdog.org. “In an industry where people certainly would have a hope and expectation to privacy, the idea of having to register with the state to engage in a constitutionally protected activity strikes us as a form of shaming of these people who are in this industry, particularly women.”
Pennsylvania isn’t the first state to stir up privacy concerns among adult entertainers. In 2014, nude dancers in Washington state sued their local government to prevent the release of their private information to a concerned citizen who wished to “pray for them.” A year before, a bill was introduced in Texas that would require dancers at “sexually oriented businesses” to obtain special certification, also with the expressed goal of protecting women. “In Texas, you don’t need a special permit to purchase an assault weapon. But soon, you may need one to take your clothes off,” Rachel Krantz wrote for The Daily Beast at the time.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s office did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment about the bill.