Well, now we know. Rape and domestic violence are caused ... by nude dancing.
So says David Caton, Florida's top morality cop, who seems to get local governments to dance routinely to his Christian conservative tune.
Most of these crusades are based on the simple notion that nudity (and sex) is bad. But now Caton, president of the Florida Family Association, has cobbled together some statistics that purport to show that Hillsborough County has an exceptional number of rapes and domestic violence cases because of the county's tolerance for strip clubs. He has urged the commission to pass a sweeping anti-nudity ordinance that would effectively ban erotic dancing.
The commissioners seem to be buying it — or at least grasping Caton's theory as rationale for another headline-grabbing assault on sin.
On Tuesday, July 29, at 6 p.m., the commission will hold a "workshop" session on the issue. Afterward, there will be public comment and a vote. Commissioner Pat Frank, an opponent, thinks the ordinance will be approved. "I would say that it's pretty certain," she says.
Passage would likely ignite a round of arrests and the start of an enforcement effort that the county sheriff's office estimates will cost nearly a million dollars a year. And the arrests, in turn, will provoke legal challenges and guerrilla tactics from Caton's arch-nemesis, Mons Venus owner Joe Redner. Tampa mayor Pam Iorio opposes the county's initiative, but the city may be dragged into the mess just the same.
Caton set forth his theory in a report titled "Crimes Related to Nude Entertainment" and submitted it to commissioners early this year. It includes statistics citing Tampa's high rate of rape and domestic violence cases, as well as data showing the city's large number of adult businesses (strip clubs, massage parlors, lingerie modeling shops, etc.).
The report makes no attempt to correlate the two. There are no statistics or evidence submitted about men who have gone to strip clubs and then raped or abused women. But in effect, Caton is saying: There simply must be a connection.
"The characteristics of men who frequent these places are that they have little regard or respect for their wives as people," Caton told the Weekly Planet. "Hypothetically, a man might watch an attractive nude dancer. Maybe his wife does not meet that level of attractiveness. The guy, disenchanted with what he has in the form of sex, might become physically abusive, harming his spouse or forcing her into some kind of activity she does not want."
Can it be that Caton's initiative will cut down rapes and domestic violence cases by running nudity out of town? Not according to the people who are serious students of such violence.
"I can't think of any clients where there was a connection between going to strip clubs and later sexual assault," says Dr. Ron DeMayo, a licensed psychologist in Tampa for 15 years and a licensed sex therapist for six.
While stressing that he did not wish to speak for all psychologists, DeMayo added, "I would say that the standard thought in my field is that the sexually repressive, sexually negative censure that Caton is trying to promote causes more sexual problems than the availability of pornography and other adult erotic outlets does. That's where my business comes from — [people with] sexually repressive backgrounds. David Caton is good for my business."
But is David Caton good for the taxpayers?
The sheriff's office estimates that enforcing a countywide ban on nudity at adult businesses will cost $900,000 a year. "They can push that figure to four or five-million," Redner scoffs. "I'll give 'em so much static."
Defending the anti-nudity ordinance in court would likely run up another seven-figure tab for the county. Redner is aware that the proposed law, modeled after one in St. Johns County (St. Augustine), has withstood legal challenges in other parts of the state. "They ain't withstood one like mine," he snorts.
The strip club impresario has a team gathering its own data to present at the commission workshop. "We're going to give them every opportunity to evaluate the situation," says Luke Lirot, Redner's free speech attorney. "And if they reject the truth for political expediency, they do so at their own peril."
Already, Randy Fisher Ph.D., the director of the Survey Research Laboratory at University of Central Florida, has completed "A Critical Analysis of 'Crimes Related to Nude Entertainment,'" which thoroughly debunks Caton's report. It shows that the Florida Family Association study omitted pertinent data that did not support its claims and inflated the number of nude businesses in Hillsborough. For instance, Caton's report correctly says that Tampa has the highest rate of rape of any Florida city with a population over 300,000. But there are only three such cities in the state, the others being Miami and Jacksonville. Furthermore, seven smaller cities have rape rates higher than that of Tampa, and three of them do not have adult businesses: Tallahassee, Winter Haven and Fort Pierce.