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Published January 30 2013

Forum editorial: Not all ‘dancing’ is a crime

Moorhead’s apparent determination to license “adult entertainment” raises questions about affixing the city’s stamp of approval on activities many residents of the city find morally offensive. At least one member of the City Council, Luther Stueland, sees it that way. He’s got it right, but that’s only one of the proposal’s flaws.

A draft ordinance won unanimous preliminary approval this week. (Stueland was absent.) It would require strippers, escorts and exotic dancers to pay a fee, register with police, submit to background checks and carry photo IDs. By most definitions, licenses and fees represent a city’s tangible approval of an activity or business.

Furthermore, it is not clear whether specific government intrusion into the lives and businesses of people involved in the legal adult entertainment would survive a legal challenge. After all, city officials, including Chief of Police David Ebinger, seem to be proceeding under the assumption that all adult entertainers are in the same category. That is, they engage in illegal activity, such as prostitution and/or child trafficking.

Really? If there is evidence of such crimes, where are the arrests? If Moorhead police are seeing a spike in prostitution and child trafficking, should not the focus be on that, and not on collecting fees and registering dancers?

Exotic dancing, stripping and escorting might raise moral hackles, but they are not automatically illegal. And if anyone in Moorhead or anywhere else can agree on universal definitions of those pursuits, let’s hear them. For some aficionados, exotic dancing is an art form; for others, it’s an invitation to sex-for-pay. Therefore, the wide-net approach to the matter is fraught not only with enforcement problems but also with knotty questions regarding what would constitute a violation of the city’s license/fee/registration scheme.

The belief that the ordinance would significantly reduce illegal activity, such as prostitution, is a remote hope, at best. Pimps, hookers and traffickers won’t be stopping at the police station to register and pay fees. A feel-good ordinance, however well-intentioned, is no substitute for good old-fashioned police work. Council members should proceed with caution. They should think this one through before they vote next time.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.