Vice Patrol: The People Behind New Strip Club Laws And What They’re Fighting

The People Behind New Strip Club Laws And What They’re Fighting

Margaret Wright
7 min read
Vice Patrol
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David Maddox is an earnest, hardworking guy who says he cares about giving back to his community. He juggles family life and a regular 9-to-5 job on top of grad school. He was a volunteer chaplain for the Albuquerque Police Department before he moved on to another gig as chaplain for the local Drug Enforcement Administration. He also spent countless unpaid hours over the past year working with the City Council to enact its new Sexually Oriented Business Ordinance.

Co-sponsored by Republican Dan Lewis and Democrats Isaac Benton and Debbie O’Malley, the law places tough restrictions on the licensing and operation of strip clubs.

Maddox got active against human trafficking about two years ago after he enrolled in a master’s degree program for criminal justice and attended a national anti-trafficking conference. Since then, he’s positioned himself as a victims’ advocate, founding an anti-trafficking website called
Release Global where he self-publishes academic work on the subject. Maddox was appointed by Mayor Richard Berry to serve on the city’s human rights board and the state’s human trafficking roundtable.

Maddox says he’s puzzled about why anyone would take issue with the ordinance.

“My goal,” he says, “was to shed light on this darkened world where a lot of horrible things occur—prostitution, drug trafficking, human trafficking.” The new law is all about maintaining safe working conditions for strip club employees, especially dancers, Maddox adds. Both he and Councilor Lewis vehemently take issue with opponents who say the regulations are an attempt to legislate family values. “I have never mentioned the word moral, or good morals or bad morals,” says Maddox.

His activism is based on the underlying goal of what he refers to as “neo-abolitionism”—a movement made up of feminists and evangelical Christians seeking to eradicate prostitution. If communities are able to shrink the market for all forms of sex trade, says Maddox, the worldwide prevalence of human trafficking will be reduced. “I believe that if we can do anything to limit pornography, prostitution, strip clubs, massage parlors—any of that kind of thing that promotes illegal prostituted acts—and if you can eliminate people wanting to have sexual acts for money, that’s eliminating the demand.”

The Most Vulnerable

Maddox says his criminal justice studies taught him that women who work in strip clubs are particularly prone to exploitation. “They come from from broken homes, molestation, promiscuous lifestyles, substance abuse,” says Maddox. To the best of anyone’s knowledge there hasn’t been human trafficking in Albuquerque strip clubs, he adds. But human trafficking, illegal prostitution and employment in strip clubs, says Maddox, are all interconnected.

On its face, the Sexually Oriented Business Ordinance is all about human health and safety. “I sponsored it and supported it because I believe it addresses protections for some of the most vulnerable people in our city, especially people who might find themselves in an unwanted situation,” says Councilor Lewis, who represents the Westside. The bill is meant to combat human trafficking, he adds, but it also protects the general public welfare.

“This bill doesn’t flat out say that we think strip clubs in Albuquerque or the operators are involved in human trafficking,” says Lewis. Around the country though, many club owners didn’t know there was human trafficking going on in their establishments, he adds.

The Albuquerque regulations ensure owners and managers of strip clubs haven’t been convicted of sex offenses. There are more detailed employee record-keeping requirements aimed at ensuring dancers aren’t underage, working against their will or being forced to prostitute themselves. With private VIP rooms outlawed, the hope is that it will be more difficult for assaults and other illicit activities to happen. The ordinance also makes it easier for the city to pull a club’s business license if the mayor determines that violations have taken place.

“This is an industry that has all kinds of issues,” says Councilor O’Malley, who represents the North Valley. “It just does. And a lot of those women feel like they don’t have a whole lot of choices in how they make a living. That’s the sad part.” She adds that the most stringent provisions in the original draft of the law were deliberately trimmed to avoid restricting strip clubs’ First Amendment right to offer nude entertainment.

Maddox points out that Albuquerque is certainly not the first city to enact these sorts of rules. “People think that we’re pioneering this legislation, but we’re not,” Maddox says. “We’re way behind. So many other cities have strip club ordinances, and they’re way more strict than ours. I pitched a lot stronger one than this one that passed.”

A National Effort

In many cases, cities around the nation are passing replicas of the same bill, drafted to hold up against legal challenges. Attorney Scott Bergthold helped strengthen ordinances in Dallas,
one of which Albuquerque’s is based on. Maddox says he consulted with Bergthold during the process of introducing these rules to the Duke City.

Bergthold’s law practice specializes in helping state and local governments across the country create rules restricting a variety of sexually oriented businesses, including adult movie stores and strip clubs. He’s also been instrumental in establishing case law that prevents such measures from being challenged in court.

Bergthold got his law training from Regent University, which was founded by leading conservative Christian Pat Robertson. According to the book
Naked Truth by Judith Lynne Hanna, Bergthold used to be president of the Community Defense Counsel, which is now under the umbrella of Alliance Defending Freedom. Bergthold has been both honored and granted money by the group, which is a self-described “legal ministry” with “a highly trained network of attorneys [that] brings a wealth of experience to the fight to defend religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.”

On its website, the alliance claims as one of its victories a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that communities can enact laws to defend themselves against the spread of sexually oriented businesses.

Angelina Spencer is the executive director of the national Association of Club Executives, a trade group for adult nightclubs. She says club owners have been butting heads with city governments represented by lawyers like Bergthold for years—but it’s only recently that human trafficking was the focus. Spencer says her association conducts legislative analysis, and she noticed a sudden uptick in laws aimed at combatting human trafficking in strip clubs.

“We said, Wow, maybe we do have a problem. Maybe we are a really big issue and a really big carrier for human trafficking. Maybe we’re the conduit,” she says. But club owners in her organization disagreed, saying: “We’re not about coercion and fear and abuse. We’re about entertainment and fun. We don’t want
people working in this industry that don’t want to be here.”

Spencer says that in response, ACE led an effort to educate strip club operators and employees about human trafficking. Over the last year, the organization partnered with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and victim advocacy groups to conduct trainings around the country. “We don’t feel that human trafficking or sex trafficking is a strip-club problem,” Spencer concludes. “We do believe it’s a growing U.S. problem.”

Councilor Lewis says the rules are about making the community safer. But he adds that strip clubs are are not an ideal workplace for anyone. “If it’s a great career choice for people, and they’re so happy being in that career … then why is a high percentage of those dancers drug addicts?”

Lewis’ voice rises as he continues. “Why do they turn to drugs? Why are the police always picking them up all the time with drug-related issues? Why do they go home to those kids at three in the morning and leave them there all night, and CYFD has to go in and pick up those kids? Because they’re not in an ideal situation at all.”

It may not be a popular position to print in a newspaper, Lewis finishes, but those are the facts.
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