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Illinois adopts stripper tax to fund rape crisis centers

Strip clubs in Illinois will have to hand over a share of their revenues, starting in 2013, to help fund programs to prevent sexual assault and counsel victims under a law signed by Gov. Pat Quinn on Saturday.

The measure establishes a new tax on the clubs that will raise up to $1 million a year, helping to reverse several years of funding cuts for rape crisis centers. The legislation has also sparked debate over how strong of a link can be drawn between strip clubs and violent crime, and whether those businesses should pay out to fight the problems.

The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, will place an annual surcharge on strip clubs that have live nude dancing and permit alcohol. Businesses could pay $3 per customer or pay a graduated amount based on their sales. The money will go to a special fund devoted to preventing sexual violence and counseling its victims.

"When a sexual assault victim goes to a police station or a survivor calls a hotline, we need trained staff ready to respond," said Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, who supported the effort. "This bill helps to keep lights on and doors open, jobs filled and responders trained."

"This law is a victory for rape victims. . . "

- Polly Poskin, director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Illinois has 33 rape crisis centers, and they've lost one-quarter of their state funding over the last four years as the government grapples with mounting debts. They're getting $4.6 million this year, down from $5.8 million in 2009.

"This law is a victory for rape victims and the dedicated rape crisis centers who work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," said Polly Poskin, director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

As the bill moved through the Legislature, some Republicans balked at creating a new tax. But many lawmakers seemed to agree they needed to fund sexual assault prevention and critical services for rape victims.

Club owners argued it was unfair to link their businesses with crime and violence, but one said Saturday that the measure signed into law was a reasonable compromise.

"I certainly do not for a minute believe that our industry causes these problems," said Michael Ocello, who owns five strip clubs in southern Illinois. "But one thing we do agree on is that rape crisis centers need to be funded. So, hopefully this will have an effect."

The measure was one of three laws Quinn signed Saturday that are designed to provide greater protection for women against sexual assault and domestic violence.

One of the other laws aims to bring a voluntary course to high schools around the state designed to increase awareness of domestic violence, sexual assault, date rape, bullying and suicide. The course has already been offered in a pilot program at two schools.

The third law allows prosecutors to use prior domestic violence offenses to support their arguments in first- and second-degree murder cases involving domestic violence.

"Violence against women has occurred in small towns, urban neighborhoods and college campuses," Quinn said. "These new laws will help us hold the predators accountable as well as prevent behavior which can lead to sexual assaults."