June 16, 2019

City’s Sweetheart Deal with Strip Clubs is Not So Sweet for Victims of Human Trafficking

City’s Sweetheart Deal with Strip Clubs is Not So Sweet for Victims of Human Trafficking

In 2013, the City of Houston entered into an agreement with sixteen of Houston’s most notorious strip clubs. The agreement settled some longstanding litigation between the City and the strip clubs over the City’s rules about the operation of such businesses. The agreement is so favorable to the strip clubs that it has come to be known as the Sweet Sixteen Agreement. To give you some idea how good a deal this is for the clubs, some clubs that were not included have sued the City for discrimination because they have not been allowed to join in the deal!

The main feature of the agreement was that the clubs would pay an aggregate of about $1 million per year and in exchange they would be exempt from some of the City’s more restrictive rules.  For example, Houston ordinances provide that “performers” cannot touch the patrons.  The Sweet Sixteen Agreement exempts those clubs from the enforcement of that ordinance.  The roughly $1 million paid in exchange for this special treatment supposedly goes to fight human trafficking.  More on that later.[i]

The agreement also provides for certain reporting requirements by the clubs, better lighting and the elimination of “private” areas.  We filed an open records request for documents which would show whether the City has been enforcing any of these requirements.  The City produced some records, but also objected to the production of others.  Of the ones produced, we can find no meaningful enforcement of these provisions.  (You can review a copy of the Sweet Sixteen Agreement here and all the documents the City produced here.)

The Houston 20, Child Advocates and virtually every other group fighting human trafficking have opposed the Sweet Sixteen agreement from the outset.  And for good reason.  The exploitation of young women is the raison d’être of these businesses.  It is the only reason they exist.  But don’t take my word for it.  Here is a message from a young woman who was lured into this industry.

I have met this young woman and heard her account first-hand and in considerably greater detail.  Hearing her story in her own words and voice is even more chilling and moving than what you just read.

When I called Sylvester Turner out for accepting campaign contributions from the owners of the Sweet Sixteen Clubs, he defended his action claiming that the clubs “had joined the fight against human trafficking.”  Even longtime friends of Turner, like Child Advocate CEO Bob Sanborn, slammed him for this shameless lie.

Incredibly, the Sweet Sixteen agreement, which effectively repeals certain City ordinances for these privileged businesses, was never approved by City Council.  Think about that for a minute.   Our elected City Council adopts an ordinance and the mayor, by executive fiat, allows certain businesses to not comply with the ordinance.  It was a breath-taking expansion of executive authority.[i]


The Sweet Sixteen Agreement is set to expire in 2020.  It should be terminated at that time.  That is absolutely what I will do if elected.  Turner has waffled.  In a statement he said he would evaluate the merits of the agreement when it comes up for renewal and make the decision at that time.  The fact he has accepted $50,000 from the strip club owners tells us all we need to know about how that “evaluation” will come out.

It is an embarrassment to our City that our mayor has accepted this dirty money.  He should donate every cent he has received from sexually oriented businesses to one of the human trafficking organizations and pledge that he will cancel the Sweet Sixteen Agreement.

I am calling on every candidate for mayor and for City Council to join me in demanding that Turner donate his SOB contributions to a human trafficking organization and to terminate this despicable agreement.

Any candidate who refused to do so is not worthy of your vote.

It is time to End the Sweet Sixteen agreement.

[i] I have significant doubts about the legality of this kind of agreement being executed by a mayor without City Council approval and the circumstances surrounding the creation of the agreement present a number of ethical concerns.  More on that later.

[i] The accounting for the money paid by the strip clubs is a little murky.  I have been able to track about half of it going into activities that are in some way related to human trafficking.  But even that appears to have only replaced existing funding and has not gone to create any additional enforcement capacity.

This is political advertising paid for by the Bill King Campaign.

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