“In a performative bid against “human trafficking,” Texas has raised the legal age for working at a strip club from 18 to 21 years old, putting many employees out of work and putting clubs that hire them—even inadvertently—in risk of serious legal penalties, including up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The state also updated part of its penal code to define “child” as anyone under age 21.
There’s no evidence that legal strip clubs in Texas are rife with underage workers (which would already be against the law), nor that young adults working in these clubs are at higher risk of human trafficking. Texas lawmakers—and their counterparts in Congress and in states across the country—love to Do Something About Sexual Exploitation even if that thing has serious ancillary consequences and no chance in hell of accomplishing its stated goals.
What the new Texas law (S.B. 315) will do is make it illegal for young adult women inclined to work at a strip club to do so—driving up the likelihood that some of them will instead engage in more risky forms of sex work and/or fall into the arms of exploitative third parties (those who police call “traffickers” and “pimps”). Meanwhile, someone already under the control of a “trafficker” will still be, but in a location further underground.
“Those who pushed the bill may feel like heroes for ‘rescuing’ 18, 19, and 20-year-olds from what they believe to be the horrors of the sex industry,” writes Jessie Sage—managing editor of Peepshow mag and a self-described erotic laborer—in a blog post about the Texas legislation and those who will be pushed out of employment because of it. “Yet, in the wake of a global pandemic that has devastated the economy, and a lack of employment protections for sex workers, the sure harms of such laws far outstrip any imagined benefit, particularly for the young dancers whose livelihoods now hang in the balance.””
“Strip clubs aren’t the only ones affected. The law—which was signed into law on May 24 and took effect immediately—says all “sexually oriented businesses” must comply with the new age limit. So working at shops selling sex toys, porn, or other adult goods is now off limits for adults under age 21, even though it’s legal for these same adults to purchase sex toys, purchase porn, or go to strip clubs and other sex-related businesses. Adult modeling studios, webcam studios, and their ilk are off limits too.
Any sexually oriented business found employing someone 18 to 20 years old in any capacity (with the exception of as an “independent contractor solely performing repair, maintenance, or construction services at the business”) is now guilty of a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Anyone employing an 18- to 20-year-old to work nude, topless, or “in a sexually oriented commercial activity”—that is, “a massage establishment, nude studio, modeling studio, love parlor, or other similar commercial enterprise the primary business of which is the offering of a service that is intended to provide sexual stimulation or sexual gratification to the customer”—is now guilty of violating the state’s law against Employment Harmful to Children, a felony.
Employing someone ages 18 to 20 to work nude, topless, or in a sexually oriented commercial activity has become a second-degree felony, punishable by a mandatory minimum of two years in prison (and possibly as many as 20 years in prison), plus a fine of up to $10,000. “Conduct under this section constitutes an offense regardless of whether the actor knows the age of the victim at the time of the offense,” the law states.”
“”Rather than pearl-clutching moralism, law makers would be better off listening to the chorus of sex workers who tell them that these laws are harmful to their community and young people who will be pushed into making more dangerous choices when clubs are no longer available to them,” suggests Sage. “If they were actually interested in protecting young sex workers, they would listen to them; sex workers know what they need, and it’s not less opportunity.””