Bill would set legal age limit for exotic dancers

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- No one under the age of 21 would be able to work as an exotic dancer in Missouri under legislation criticized by some as unfairly limiting young adults' income possibilities.

Sen. Sarah Steelman, whose bill was heard Tuesday by a Senate committee that she chairs, said women can earn hundreds of dollars a day by dancing nude.

"It becomes a tempting thing for some girls to do," Steelman, R-Rolla, told the Senate Commerce and Environment Committee.

"It wouldn't be the first time that men exploited women for their own profit."

Current state law does not specifically set a minimum age for exotic dancing.

But it is already a misdemeanor in Missouri to promote obscenity or pornography for minors through an obscene performance for monetary gain. The law defines a "minor" as anyone under 18, and some have interpreted it as prohibiting people below that age from working as exotic dancers.

Steelman said some young women who perform in adult clubs end up involved in pornography, partly because they aren't mature enough to deal with their lifestyle.

The age restriction in Steelman's bill was a concern for Sen. Wayne Goode, a member of the Senate committee.

"These are adults," said Goode, D-St. Louis. "This is a restriction on an adult's ability to earn a living performing a legal activity."

Anyone entering an adult club in Missouri must be at least 18, although the state's legal drinking age is 21. Dancers in so-called juice bars, where no alcohol is served, can disrobe entirely while those working in clubs where alcohol is served must be partially covered.

Court challenge likely

Owners of adult clubs said Steelman's legislation easily could be challenged in court.

"It's a bad law because 18-year-olds are emancipated adults and legally you can't forbid them from what emancipated adults do," said Louie Keen, who owns Big Louie's in St. Roberts near Fort Leonard Wood.

If the measure passed, Missouri women under 21 could still work at strip clubs in neighboring states, he said, and it would not prevent them from working at escort services in Missouri or providing live sex shows on the Internet.

Keen also said the legislation would unfairly force young women to take jobs that paid less.

"Why are lawmakers drawing the line on what a person's maximum earnings should be?" he said.

Supporters of the bill included Judi Tillett, a pastor who works with the Pulaski County Crisis Center and was representing a group of citizens who live near Fort Leonard Wood. There are several adult clubs in the area.

In the past 10 months, Tillett said, nearly three-fourths of the women at the shelter between the ages of 18 and 25 had worked as exotic dancers.

Rep. Bill Ransdall, D-Waynesville, who is sponsoring a similar House bill, said it was unacceptable that high school students work in strip clubs.

"I think at that young age they can be led to make some decisions that they wouldn't make if they were 21 or 22 or 23 years old," Ransdall said.

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Exotic dancing bills are SB378 (Steelman) and HB165 (Ransdall).

On the Net

  • Missouri Legislature: www.moga.state.mo.

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