Louisiana strippers avoid minimum age law amongst club crackdown
While sipping on a “Huge Ass Beer” and meandering through the sticky streets of Bourbon Street, many different forms of advertisement make themselves apparent to the tourist and local alike. Through its sharp smells, muffled club beats, street gawkers, bead throwers, flyer handers, bright neon signs and beautiful women, this magical street of debauchery finds a way to awaken dulled senses and sleepy bodies. Take for instance, the allure of strip clubs. People who would never otherwise seek a naked dance establishment receive a 50% off drink coupon from a fishnet clad woman outside and suddenly find themselves asking their group of lowered inhibition friends “Why not? Let’s just check it out!” Inside, however, is a world completely different from the brightly lit Bourbon Street.
In January of 2018, eight liquor licenses were revoked from French Quarter strip clubs after illegal activity was discovered by New Orleans Police and the state office of Alcohol and Tobacco control who raided the establishments. Prostitution and drug dealing were the most common offenses as the two seem to go hand-in-hand and are illegal outside of the strip club as well. State law specifies that establishments who sell alcohol must keep these activities away, however prostitution has long been considered a feature of stripping and exotic dancing throughout New Orleans history. In 1953, New Orleans strip club raids lead to the discovery of bedrooms set aside for that specific reason. Narcotics, on the other hand, seem to be a relatively new feature of strip club culture as highlighted by undercover agents’ abilities to procure drugs during the “Trick or Treat” investigation in 2015 from the dancers themselves. More shockingly, however, is the third offense recorded against many of the Quarter’s strip clubs: lewd, immoral, or improper entertainment acts.
Most of the rules that control strip clubs and naked bars are actually only in reference to establishments that sell alcohol. Because of this, it’s very hard to regulate the actual stripping itself and loopholes are often taken advantage of. Therefore, when the January crack down occurred, many questioned how ‘lewd acts’ could be an offense against an inherently lewd activity. Shockingly, one of the only deciding factors in whether or not stripping is considered legal is the height of the stage and the age of the dancer. Despite attempts to raise the minimum age for dancers, a federal appeals court has just ruled that Louisiana cannot set 21 as its minimum age to perform naked. In 2016, Louisiana lawmakers attempted to raise age requirements from 18 in order to protect women against sex trafficking. Three anonymous New Orleans dancers aged 18, 19 and 20 filed a lawsuit last year citing a previous injunction blocking enforcement of state law and won.
The law, as previously written, didn’t specify fully how much of a breast or bottom had to be covered and was quickly disregarded by popular venues. An ex-dancer at Passion’s Men’s Club and now full-time Tulane student (who wishes to remain anonymous,) described her experience out of high school as “Something that I’ll never forget. We heard about the age requirement being raised, but nothing changed for us. I don’t think it ever really went into effect.” When asked if she agrees with a law raising the age to 21, she said “Absolutely not. You can bartend at 18 here in New Orleans. Just because alcohol exists doesn’t mean anything to people working. We aren’t there for fun.”
Certainly, after recent busts French Quarter strip clubs need to clean up their acts if they want to stay open; without a liquor license, clubs have almost no shot of surviving. However, if the government seeks to regulate exotic dancing, whether in the battle against sex-trafficking or not, it must clearly define boundaries separate from liquor laws. Women’s bodies should not be regulated in terms of ‘lewdness’ but rather to avoid exploitation by club owners or strip club attendees.