As I discovered anew last week, things are always a little different in San Francisco. Take, for example, my recent “take your daughter to work day’’ experience.
I had to cover a public hearing. My teenage daughter had never been inside the refurbished City Hall — a perfect opportunity for a late-summer field trip.
And that’s how Laura became familiarized with the terms “sex workers, erotic service providers and panic buttons” — though not necessarily in that order. Her first glimpse at city politics — at a hearing on proposed legislation affecting adult entertainment clubs — showed why it’s such a great job being a columnist in San Francisco, where reality is often dressed up in low-rise jeans and go-go boots.
San Francisco is in the midst of a battle over the rights of strip club workers to ply their trade free from interference from public officials who want to regulate lap dancing in private places. The fact that serious problems involving prostitution, drug use and human trafficking are overlooked by The City’s fine team of professional prosecutors is not even an issue here since the body that is allegedly trying to make adult clubs safer for erotic dancers apparently is doing so with little support from the dancers themselves.
So why would anyone push legislation on behalf of people who are publicly condemning it? That is at the crux of the issue facing The City’s Commission on the Status of Women, a body whose overstrung politics have shown it to have difficulty walking the wobbly line between fact and fantasy.
The well-meaning women on that commission want to pull the curtain back on strip clubs, making private booths illegal because they allegedly are places where acts of prostitution and sexual abuse can take place. At least that is the claim of one former dancer, aptly named Daisy Anarchy, who has essentially launched a one-person crusade to close the rooms and managed to sell the CSW on the idea.
There’s only one glaring weakness with the legislation, according to the testimony heard so far by members of the Entertainment Commission, the agency that would be handing out future permits for the strip clubs. None of the dancers who work at the clubs want the ordinance passed, saying it is unnecessary, harmful to their livelihoods and a complete waste of time.
And these are people who clearly equate time with money.
The two dozen or so adult entertainers who testified at the hearing contend the private rooms are monitored, are protected by security and some even have “panic buttons” that can be pressed when the situation becomes, uh, uncomfortable. Moreover, the rooms are actually more secure than other options such as going with a “client” to a hotel or performing at a private party — a claim which seems to ring true in light of the case where a dancer was allegedly raped by members of the Duke University Lacrosse team earlier this year.
“I feel safer at the clubs than I do anywhere else,” said Christiana Rogers, a dancer at Centerfolds. Rogers described her work essentially as therapy without formal trappings — like clothes. “I make a living talking to men.”
And what they’re talking about is finances. The dancers can make most of their money performing in private — some estimate as much as $1,000 per shift. One could argue that you don’t need to be behind a curtain to make a living as an erotic dancer, but that’s apparently a philosophical pole that the club workers don’t want to touch.
The real truth, according to Andrea Evans, a member of the CSW, is that some women have complained anonymously about problems that happen in the private rooms. “We have a situation where we have women who don’t want to come forward publicly over fear that they will lose their jobs,” she said.
I have it on good authority that the club owners gave dancers monetary incentives to testify against the legislation. But packing public hearings is not news — supervisors and lobbyists do it as a routine matter. So all we’re left with is a public record which reflects an industry in which the workers are adamantly opposed to any changes — and why most observers believe the legislation is all but dead on arrival in its current form.
As writer Edna Buchanan once noted, sex gets so many people in trouble it’s a wonder why most of them don’t just give it up. And trying to regulate adult encounters is clearly risky business, especially in a town that officially looks the other way.