Legal status of striptease

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The legal status of striptease varies considerably among the various jurisdictions of the United States and elsewhere. Striptease is considered a form of public nudity and subject to changing legal and cultural attitudes on moral and decency grounds. Some countries do not have any restrictions on performances of striptease. In some countries, public nudity is outlawed directly, while in other countries it may be suppressed or regulated indirectly through devices such as restrictions on venues through planning laws, or licensing regulations, or liquor licensing and other restrictions.

Many U.S. jurisdictions have various laws related to striptease, public nudity and related issues. For example, the "six foot rule" requires strippers to maintain a six-foot distance from customers while performing topless or nude.[1] This rule does not apply when in a bikini or other work outfit, but is indicative of the level of scrutiny prevailing in some jurisdictions on dancer-customer interaction. Other rules forbid "full nudity". In some parts of the United States, laws forbid exposure of female nipples, but does not apply if a stripper wears pasties.[2][3]

In 2010, Iceland outlawed striptease entirely.[4] Johanna Sigurðardottir, Iceland's prime minister, who is an open lesbian,[5][6] said: "The Nordic countries are leading the way on women's equality, recognizing women as equal citizens rather than commodities for sale."[7] The politician behind the bill, Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, said: "It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold."[7]

Social attitudes[edit]

A relatively liberal social climate keeps many jurisdictions in the United States from passing stricter legislation against strip clubs, or from enforcing it fully. However, in recent years, many cities, such as New York City and San Francisco, have enacted ordinances prohibiting "adult entertainment" businesses from within a certain distance of houses, schools and churches, and perhaps each other. Often, a distance of nearly half-a-mile is stipulated, which ensure that new strip clubs can not open in many major cities. Courts have generally upheld these zoning laws.

“Crime and property depreciation are the inevitable consequences of the presence in a community of exotic dance adult entertainment”. Many areas in Europe also have liberal attitudes on sexuality but the UK has seen recent legislation trend more conservative in its treatment of striptease.

United States issues[edit]

Decency regulations[edit]

Many United States jurisdictions have laws pertaining to striptease or public nudity. In some parts of the United States, laws forbid exposure of female nipples, but does not apply if a stripper wears pasties.[2] In early 2010, the city of Detroit banned fully exposed breasts in its strip clubs, following the example of Houston which began enforcing a similar ordinance of 2008.[8] The city council has since softened the rules eliminating the requirement for pasties [9] but kept other restrictions.

Topless and fully nude clubs[edit]

In several parts of the United States, local laws classify strip clubs as either topless or all/fully nude. Dancers in topless clubs can expose their breasts, but not their genitals. Topless dancers typically perform in a G-string and, depending on local laws, may be required to wear pasties covering their nipples. Fully nude clubs may be subject to additional requirements such as restrictions on alcohol sales or no-touch rules between customers and dancers.[10]

To get around these rules two "separate" bars—one topless and one fully nude—may open adjacent to one another. In a small number of states and jurisdictions, where it is legal for alcohol to be consumed but not for alcohol to be sold, some clubs allow customers to bring their own beverages. These are known as BYOB clubs.

Independent contractors[edit]

In the U.S., striptease dancers are generally classified as independent contractors. While a few smaller strip clubs may pay a weekly wage, for the most part all of a dancer's income is derived from tips and other fees they collect from customers. In most clubs, dancers have to pay a "stage fee" or "house fee" to work a given shift. In addition, most clubs take a percentage of each private dance. It is customary—and often required in the United States—for dancers to also pay a "tip out", which is money (either a set fee or a percentage of money earned) paid to staff members of clubs, such as DJs, house moms, make-up artists, servers, bartenders, and bouncers, at the end of their shift.[11]

Touching of strippers[edit]

Touching of strippers is illegal in many states. However, some dancers and some clubs condone touching of dancers during private dances. This touching often includes the fondling of breasts, buttocks, and in rare cases vulvae. In some locales, dancers may give a customer a "lap dance", whereby the dancer grinds against the customer's crotch while he is fully clothed in an attempt to arouse him or bring him to climax.

One of the more notorious local ordinances is San Diego Municipal Code 33.3610,[12] specific and strict in response to allegations of corruption among local officials [13] which included contacts in the nude entertainment industry. Among its provisions is the "six foot rule", copied by other municipalities in requiring that dancers maintain a six-foot distance while performing topless or nude. While in their bikini or other work outfit this rule is not in effect, but is indicative of the level of scrutiny prevailing in some regions on dancer-customer interaction.

Status of underage dancers[edit]

In July 2009, it was discovered that, in addition to not having a prostitution law (prostitution in Rhode Island was outlawed in 2009), Rhode Island also does not have a law to stop underage girls from being exotic dancers.[14] The Mayor of Providence, David Cicilline signed an executive order, effective July 31, prohibiting the city Board of Licenses from issuing adult entertainment licenses to establishments that employ minors.[15] The club owners also made a pledge to not employ underage girls.[16]

International issues[edit]

North America[edit]

There have been annual attempts to amend the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), passed in 2001. The 2009 version of the bill (Bill C-45: An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act) had specific provisions related to tightening the issuance of Exotic Dancer Visas as a means to combat human trafficking.[17] In addition to Canada, the Irish and Japanese governments had at one time special visa categories for 'entertainers' which enabled the trafficking of women for strip clubs and prostitution.[18] The former immigration chief in Cyprus was found guilty in 2001 of accepting bribes to issue work permits to foreign women (from Ukraine) who worked as strippers in clubs, some of whom were forced into prostitution.[19]


In the 1930s, when the Windmill Theatre, London, began to present nude shows, British law prohibited performers moving whilst in a state of nudity.[20] To get around that rule, models appeared naked in stationary tableaux vivants. To keep within the law, sometimes devices were used which rotated the models without them moving themselves. Fan dances were another device used to keep performances within the law. These allowed a naked dancer's body to be concealed by her fans or those of her attendants, until the end of an act, when she posed naked for a brief interval whilst standing stock still, and the lights went out or the curtain dropped to allow her to leave the stage.

A 2003 United Kingdom study reported statistics which said that in the London borough of Camden the number of rapes increased by 50% and indecent assaults by 57% after four lap dancing venues opened. According to the Lilith Report on Lap Dancing and Striptease in the Borough of Camden, these statistics were calculated from information published by the Metropolitan police relating to the years 1998-99 and 2001-02. The percentages however were incorrectly calculated and Metropolitan police provided the UK Guardian newspaper with the following figures: 72 rapes and 162 indecent assaults in the borough in 1998-99, and 96 rapes and 251 indecent assaults in 2001-02; a 33% increase in rape and a 55% increase in indecent assault.[21] The overall crime rate decreased over the same period.[22] However in 2011 Brooke Magnanti published a statistical re-analysis criticizing the Lilith report for its lack of incidence rate calculation, lack of control population, and using results from too short of a time period.[23]

The authors of Government Regulation of "Adult" Businesses Through Zoning and Anti-Nudity Ordinances: Debunking the Legal Myth of Negative Secondary Effects, a meta-analysis of 110 studies looking at the impact of strip clubs and other adult businesses, have concluded that the studies that favored prohibiting exotic dancing suffered from research flaws, and that in the papers that did not contain fatal flaws, there was no correlation between adult-oriented business and any crime.[24] Ethnographic work also supports the conclusion that there is no relationship between adult entertainment and crime.[25]

In 2009 the United Kingdom passed the Policing and Crime Act following concerns about the expansion in the number of live sex entertainment venues across its territories. Any strip clubs where live entertainment takes place more than 11 times a year have to apply for a license from their local authorities.[26] Hackney council used the Act to introduce a “nil” policy on adult entertainment in early 2011. However the council’s own consultation found that over 75% of the people in Shoreditch (where most of Hackney’s existing clubs are) oppose the ban. Police note that crime and antisocial behaviour around the existing clubs is extremely low compared to late-night bars. Unions estimate up to 450 jobs could be lost and TUC argued that dancers who work in the existing establishments should be better protected instead.[27]

In 2010, Iceland outlawed striptease.[4] Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, Iceland's prime minister, who is an open lesbian,[5][6] said: "The Nordic countries are leading the way on women's equality, recognizing women as equal citizens rather than commodities for sale."[7] The politician behind the bill, Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, said: "It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold."[7]

Prostitution in strip clubs[edit]

Rules governing strip clubs and the overall adult entertainment industry vary around the world, and formats sometimes are combined under a single roof or complex. In Bangkok, Thailand the Nana Entertainment Plaza in downtown Bangkok is a large four-floor compound with over 40 bars. Most of the bars are go-go bars where girls dance in various stages of nudity. They are not formal brothels, since customers must negotiate with the female workers for services up to and including sex without an intermediary.[28] The Zona Norte red light district in Tijuana, Mexico has a number of legal brothels which are modeled on strip clubs and feature U.S.-style striptease performed by its prostitutes. Zurich, Switzerland also has legalized prostitution, and its strip clubs throughout the city offer sex among their services. Differing from Zurich brothels, sex services in the strip clubs are typically performed off site.[29] Eastern European strip clubs have a similar model.[30] A "sex zone" in Tokyo, Japan which is only .34 square kilometers had approximately 3,500 sex facilities as of 1999. These included strip theaters, peep shows, "soaplands," "lover's banks," porno shops, telephone clubs, karaoke bars, clubs and more all offering adult entertainment services.[31] Filipino red light districts contain go-go bars and strip clubs tightly concentrated with other types of businesses and each other similar to the U.S.[citation needed] In Dubai, a city governed by very strict cultural norms and laws, there are several Indian strip clubs offering at least partial-nudity.[32] Newspaper reports[33][34] indicate that customers can occasionally purchase sex in some American strip clubs. Both the U.S. municipalities of Detroit, Michigan and Houston, Texas were reputed to have rampant occurrences of illicit activity including prostitution linked to its striptease establishments [35][36] within their city limits. Prostitution is illegal in all states except in some rural counties in Nevada. Prostitution in Rhode Island was outlawed in 2009.

Court cases[edit]

Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc.[edit]

In 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc. that nudity in itself is not "expressive conduct" (or "symbolic speech") entitled to free speech protection of the First Amendment.[37] It also ruled that topless or nude dancing may be expressive but that a state may nevertheless outlaw public nudity (i.e., not the dance itself) on the basis of furthering public's interest in maintaining morality and order.

In 2000, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its finding in Erie v. Pap's A. M. ruling that nude dancing was expressive conduct "marginally" protected by the First Amendment, but that it could be regulated to limit the "secondary effects", such as crime.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ For example, San Diego Municipal Code 33.3610
  2. ^ a b Richard Wortley (1976) A Pictorial History of Striptease.
  3. ^ Houston passed such a law in 2008, and Detroit passed a similar law in 2010.
  4. ^ a b "Legislation Bans Stripping in Iceland". Iceland Review. Retrieved 21 September 2015. 
  5. ^ a b Moody, Jonas (2009-01-30). "Iceland Picks the World's First openly queer PM". Time. Retrieved 2009-01-31. 
  6. ^ a b "First gay PM for Iceland cabinet". BBC News. 1 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-01. 
  7. ^ a b c d Tracy Clark-Flory. "Iceland’s stripping ban". Retrieved 21 September 2015. 
  8. ^ Houston topless clubs lose case, may respond to Supreme Court with pasties
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ Nude Dancing (from the First Amendment Center website)
  11. ^ "stripper-faq: making money". Retrieved 21 September 2015. 
  12. ^ "Article 3: Police Regulated Occupations and Businesses – Division 36: Nude Entertainment Business" (PDF). San Diego Municipal Code. Retrieved 19 January 2016. Chapter 3: Business Regulations, Business Taxes, Permits and Licenses 
  13. ^ " > News > Metro > San Diego Corruption Trial -- More bad news? What else is new?". Retrieved 21 September 2015. 
  14. ^ " Video". CNN. 
  15. ^ "Home - - Providence, RI". Retrieved 21 September 2015. 
  16. ^ "Home - - Providence, RI". Retrieved 21 September 2015. 
  17. ^ Keevil Harrold, Daphne (2009-08-25). "Bill C-45: An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-06-11. 
  18. ^ Jeffreys, Sheila (2009). The industrial vagina: the political economy of the global sex trade. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-415-41233-9. 
  19. ^ Finckenauer, James O.; Schrock, Jennifer L. (2008). The prediction and control of organized crime: the experience of post-Soviet Ukraine. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7658-0562-1. 
  20. ^ Martin Banham, "The Cambridge guide to theatre", Cambridge University Press, 1995, ISBN 0-521-43437-8, page 803
  21. ^ Bell, Rachel (2008-03-19). "The reality of lap-dancing, by a former dancer". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-06-11. 
  22. ^ Eden, Isabel (2003). Lilith Report on Lap Dancing and Striptease in the Borough of Camden (PDF). (Report). Retrieved 2010-06-19. 
  23. ^ Magnanti, Brooke. The impact of adult entertainment on rape statistics in Camden: a reanalysis (Report). Retrieved 2011-01-20. 
  24. ^ Bryant, P Linz, D and Shafer, B, 2001. Government regulation of adult businesses through zoning and anti-nudity ordinances: Debunking the legal myth of negative secondary effects. Communication Law and Policy 6(2): pp 355-91
  25. ^ Hanna, J L, 2005. Exotic Dance Adult Entertainment: A Guide for Planners and Policy Makers. Journal of Planning Literature 20(2): pp 116-134.
  26. ^ Orbach, Max (2008-06-11). "Tough new rules on strip club openings". Echo. Retrieved 2010-06-11. 
  27. ^ Dean, John (2010-12-10). "Hackney TUC condemns council’s proposed nil policy on sex establishments". Hackney Citizen (London). Retrieved 2011-02-13. 
  28. ^ Bee Gee, Dylan (2008-07-26). "Top 10: Brothels". Retrieved 2010-06-11. 
  29. ^ "Escort Service in Switzerland". European Sex Union. 2007-09-05. Archived from the original on March 23, 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-14. 
  30. ^ Macklin, Audrey (2003). "Dancing across borders: 'Exotic dancers,' trafficking, and Canadian immigration policy". The International Migration Review 37 (2): 464. doi:10.1111/j.1747-7379.2003.tb00145.x. 
  31. ^ Hughes, Donna; Sporcic, Laura J.; Mendelsohn, Nadine Z.; Chirgwin, Vanessa (1999). "The Factbook on Global Sexual Exploitation". Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. Retrieved 2010-06-14. 
  32. ^ Runnette, Charles (2007-03-25). "Confessions on a Dubai Dance Floor". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-06-14. 
  33. ^ Police raid Seattle strip clubs
  34. ^ "Seven arrested on prostitution charges after strip club raid". Retrieved 21 September 2015. 
  35. ^ "Another Houston Strip Club Raided". The Smoking Gun. 2008-06-02. Retrieved 2004-10-20. 
  36. ^ "Detroit City Council To Vote On Strip Club Restrictions". The Smoking Gun. 2009-11-11. Retrieved 2004-10-20. 
  37. ^ Pennsylvania case may be Supreme Court's chance to clarify nude-dancing limits (from the Freedom Forum website, Wednesday 19 May 1999)