February 6, 2009

Joint Resolution 5: The Wrong Regulation for Sex-Oriented Businesses

Oregon State Senator Don Morrisette introduced Joint Resolution 5, which would, after approval by the voters, amend the state constitution to give cities and counties the authority to "regulate the location of sexually oriented business." The main motivation for the proposal is to allow cities and developers to implement downtown revitalization plans that do not include sexually oriented businesses, but Montavilla In Action and some anti-prostitution activists also support the resolution.

But they are misguided in more than one ways. First, closing down sex businesses will increase, not decrease, prostitution on the street. It will also increase out-call prostitution, which is when a worker (or her boss) arranges the date at the customer's house or hotel room. Both of these forms involve greater risks to the individuals working in the sex industry than stripping or lingerie modeling.

But for the Montavilla In Action folks, the problem does not end there. According to The Register-Guard (Springfield, Oregon newspaper), Joint Resolution 5 is not intended to eliminate sex-oriented businesses, but to push them out of "Main Street" and put them in a small area, like car dealerships are clustered together (which, by the way, isn't just prostitution and car dealership--it's common for all sorts of industries to map out that way, and this is known as Hotelling's law in economics).

82nd Avenue is already that car dealership, literally and figuratively. Let's be honest here: if 82nd Avenue was treated like a "Main Street," we would not be having this conversation. As such, we will see more sex businesses concentrate here if the City blocks them from areas it considers "Main Street." Even Montavilla In Action admits (emphasis mine):

We have noticed that the City of Portland did recently target & close a long time adult business in the heart of Chinatown where the real estate prices are quite high now due to the gentrification of that area. Is this something the City will do for similar businesses but in areas that are not has highly desirable for development? Driving more of these adult businesses out of downtown & highly valued real estate areas and out to our working family communities, where we then are impacted daily by these patrons and the documented issues regarding these businesses? How many more adult businesses does 82nd Ave and it's surround cross streets need?

To put it short, Joint Resolution 5 is more likely to exacerbate this problem for the 82nd Avenue residents.

If we were to seek regulation of sex-oriented businesses, we need to focus on protecting workers' rights and lives. For example, dancers at strip clubs are treated as "independent contractors" rather than employees, which means that they are not paid minimum wage and have less protections than people who are employed. A legislation could be introduced to require sex-oriented businesses to treat all of its workers as employees, which would have a dramatic effect on the workers' lives. Another regulation would have these businesses provide paid employee trainings so that all workers know about health and legal consequences of various acts to help them make better decisions.

Unless you are a developer who wants to get rid of porn shops in Old Town (hey, they can always relocate on the 82nd, right?), Joint Resolution 5 is not the solution. It is harmful to the women and men who work at these businesses, and it will backfire on our neighbourhoods.