More than 1,000 female dancers at strip clubs in Texas lost their jobs recently due to a new law prohibiting the employment of anyone under the age of 21.

What you should know

• A new law requires all employees and contractors at sexually oriented businesses to be 21 or older, whether they be dancers, waiters, bartenders or bookkeepers

• Previously, the age minimum was 18

• Proponents of the law said it will help sever the link between sex trafficking and strip clubs

• Opponents of the law say it put hundreds of people out of work with no warning

Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a law May 24, making it a criminal offense for adult clubs to hire 18-, 19- or 20-year-olds either as employees or independent contractors. Effective upon signature, more than 1,000 men and women immediately lost their jobs.

The Texas Legislature provided no job growth, educational, or work alternatives for the workers, primarily women and minorities, many who will be forced to seek unemployment or become victims of minimum wage, or potentially worse.

Opponents say that without an alternative safety net, the law will do more harm than good. The law also forced valets, bartenders, cooks, servers and attendant personnel between the ages of 18-20, out of a job.

“It has been devastating to hundreds of people who have now been thrown out of work with no notice and no preparation to be able to look for other employment in a post-pandemic era when we are trying to get everyone back to work,” says Casey Wallace of the Texas Entertainment Association.

The law came just days after Abbott announced that Texas would opt out of the federal unemployment assistance associated with the COVID-19 pandemic starting June 26, which included an additional $300 a week from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program.

“The Texas Legislature just turned a complete blind eye to the welfare of hundreds and hundreds in this state who were dependent on an income and now have no ability to feed their children, no ability to make rent payments, and no ability to sustain their lives,” Wallace says.

Proponents argued that passing the law would sever the alleged link between strip clubs and sex trafficking but didn’t explain exactly how.

“These changes would provide necessary mechanisms to safeguard our communities and protection for our children from sex trafficking and sexual exploitation,” says State Sen. Joan Huffman, a Republican representing District 17, who authored the bill Abbott signed into law.

“Allowing individuals under the age of 21 to work in these establishments introduces them to the idea of selling their bodies for monetary gain,” says George P. Bush, the Texas Land Commissioner, who testified in support of the bill in the Senate Jurisprudence Committee hearing last month. “They are often exposed to drug abuse, underage drinking, prostitution and ultimately to what is called in the trade ‘The Life.’”

Testimony for the law included victim stories of sexual abuse and trafficking, including Nissi Hamilton, who described in detail her experience at age 14, when a man 12 years older than her groomed and exploited and eventually made a profit from selling her for sex. Hamilton now advocates for victims of sex trafficking as the executive director of A Survivor’s Voice St. Victor, a nonprofit based in Houston.

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, a nonprofit that acts as a resource for victims and survivors of sex trafficking, “Victims of sex trafficking are frequently recruited to work in strip clubs across the United States. Women, men, and minors may be recruited to work in strip clubs as hostesses, servers or dancers, but then are required to provide commercial sex to customers.”

But research at the Institute for Human Trafficking has twice released reports, which show sex trafficking at strip clubs is less than 1% of the problem across the US. (Note: Some advocates and victims who’ve called this hotline have complained they’ve been put on hold in excess of 45 minutes.)

Strip club workers testified against the bill, many of them saying they feel safe in the clubs and the money they earn helps them avoid being victims of minimum wage, supports their families, pays their bills, and in many cases, funds college tuition.

Wallace told news media that connecting human trafficking to strip clubs was a “ruse” based on a “completely a false premise…”

Texas adult clubs are heavily regulated by various state and local agencies, including the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, state laws, and city and county ordinances, Wallace says. In addition, police “vice squads” keep a keen oversight of the clubs to prevent any sort of abuse or trafficking, he said, and some cities even mandate annual COAST trainings so club workers can learn directly from certified law enforcement how to “make the call” if they suspect someone might be underage or trafficked.

Strip clubs make their money on alcohol sales, so no club owner wants to jeopardize a license by selling to minors, Wallace says. Because of that, clubs have adopted different methods of policing their underage staff from being served alcohol while on the premises, including issuing wristbands or other methods to identify those who can and can’t legally drink.

Forcing the 18- to 20-year-olds out of the clubs could “push them into a non-regulated business, where there’s no owner with a vested interest to make sure human trafficking isn’t going on,” Wallace adds.

Background checks and fingerprinting are one feature Texas uses to keep track of people who work in adult clubs. Not a single legislature could explain how barring adults from clubs might lower sex trafficking numbers in Texas.

“People pay a lot of lip service to human trafficking and sex trafficking and when it comes to strip clubs specifically,” one dancer told the media. “But I want people to understand that we all hand our information to the state whenever we get hired in a club.”

“The State of Texas has our info,” she said. “They literally have it in their database of every person who works in these clubs. So if they are so concerned with human trafficking and sex trafficking, why don’t they go look in the database of the people already working in there.”

EXPO deal 1