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brothel

The history of SOB laws in Houston

From strip clubs to robot brothels, we’ve come a long way.

Somewhat sheepishly, the city official tried to explain why he had spent more than $2,000 in public funds entertaining out-of-town clients at a topless bar.

“They wanted to go there,” said Jordy Tollett, who regularly wined and dined prospective conventioneers when he worked for the Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau. “I couldn’t say, ‘You can’t go there.’”

That was in 1989. Since then, countless topless bars and adult bookstores have opened and closed, the city has rewritten its “sexually oriented business” law, Harris County and other jurisdictions have struggled to enforce their own rules, and litigation challenging these rules has filled court dockets.

Yet Tollett’s simple observation — “They wanted to go there” — conveyed a truism that still confronts Houston-area leaders seeking to repel or regulate such enterprises: Sex sells. This is true of the upscale “gentleman’s clubs” where business executives unwind after work, and it’s true of the seedy “massage parlors” — thinly disguised fronts for prostitution and human trafficking — that generate about $107 million in illicit revenues a year in Houston, according to a recent study.

The sex business, like others, has responded to continuing demand with innovation.

In 1983, when the City Council passed Houston’s first ordinance regulating sexually oriented businesses, no one could have imagined that people might someday pay $120 for an hour of intimacy with objects made of synthetic skin and highly articulated skeletons. But 35 years later, the council reacted quickly to reports that a Toronto-based company, KinkySdollS, planned to open a shop in Houston that allowed prospective buyers of lifelike “sex dolls” to take them for a spin on the premises for a fee.

I remember some stories in the Houston Press from back in the day about Jordy Tollett and spending money wooing visitors at Rick’s Cabaret. Different times, to be sure. I don’t have anything to add here, I just enjoyed this little bit of history and thought you might, too.

Harris County makes its robot brothel ban official

We can all sleep more soundly now.

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday unanimously adopted new rules to prevent so-called “robot brothels” from opening and more strictly regulate sexually oriented businesses in unincorporated areas.

The county already had been revising its sexually oriented business rules, first adopted in 1996, but decided to specifically address lifelike sex dolls for rent after Toronto-based company KinkySdollsS considered opening a Houston branch where patrons could try out human-like “adult love dolls” in private rooms at the shop.

[…]

Assistant County Attorney Celena Vinson said the county largely adopted language Houston’s legal department had written.

“We wanted to address the sex robot shop that was allegedly going to open in the city, and wanted to ensure our regulations were consistent with what the city of Houston was doing,” Vinson said.

The changes now clearly define sex dolls like the ones advertised by the Toronto firm as “anthropomorphic devices” and prohibit companies from renting them out to customers. Residents of the city and county remain free to purchase such devices for use in their own homes.

See here, here, and here for the background. Despite my best efforts, I still don’t have anything useful to say about this. I just can’t resist blogging about it, and Lord knows we can use the occasional respite from the real news. You’re welcome.

Harris County to follow suit on robot brothels

If it’s good for Houston, or not good for Houston, I suppose…

Harris County commissioners are prepared to ban so-called robot brothels, just as Houston did last week.

Harris County already bans live sex acts at any place of business. Robert Soard, First Assistant County Attorney, said that, in his reading, that includes sex with “anthropomorphic devices.”

“Now, that being said, because of changing technology, it might be a good idea to amend the current sexually oriented business regulations,” Soard said.

[…]

Assistant Chief Tim Navarre said they’ll be ready to present it to Commissioners Court within two weeks. “The dialogue is…almost identical to the city’s, so, we’re way ahead of the curve,” Navarre said.

See here and here for the background. Harris County’s sexually-oriented business ordinance has generally been a mirror of Houston’s, so this is not surprising and mostly a formality. Nonetheless, if you ever had an inclination to attend a Commissioner’s Court meeting, here’s a bit of incentive for you to finally do so. Swamplot has more.

Please don’t spy on robot brothel customers

This is ridiculous, and not in the fun and amusing way.

Greg Travis

Greg Travis, the councilman of District G where a so-called “robot brothel” would be located in Houston, said on Tuesday that patrons visiting the adult business would be recorded by cameras directed at the location.

“I already have cameras (around the area) and whenever this starts, we will see all people coming and going and we will post it on social media,” Travis said at a City Council meeting where community members, mostly from religious groups, expressed opposition to the business.

The councilman said the news that a Canadian business called KinkySDollS was going to open in Houston the first “robot brothel” in the United States “stunned everybody… it’s gross.”

[…]

Small revisions proposed to the ordinance are intended to include current and emerging technologies in the adult entertainment business, such as the robot brothel. The modifications would expand the definition of an arcade devise to include “an anthropomorphic devise or object utilized for entertainment” of sexual nature.

A city document indicates that the proposed changes would “prohibit entertainment with one or more persons using an arcade devise on the premises.”

“Robot brothels,” function like a showroom where dolls are exhibited and available to customers for rent and use at the place, or for sale.

The Canadian business hasn’t registered in the city as of Tuesday, according to Roberto Medina, senior analyst at the City of Houston’s Public Works office.

See here and here for the background. I remember reading a story in the Houston Press back in the 90s about a self-appointed opponent of strip clubs who hung out on the sidewalk in front of the Men’s Club on Sage and snapped photos of everyone who entered the parking lot. This was before digital photography and the modern Internet, so the reach of her crusade was limited, but my reaction to that story then is the same as my reaction to this story now: Cut that shit out, it’s none of your business. Whatever you may think of strip clubs or robot brothels, they’re legal businesses and I don’t want you recording images of their customers any more than I want you doing so in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic, a vape shop, or Second Baptist Church.

Be that as it may, Council did pass the proposed modification of its sexually oriented business ordinance, which would basically end the “brothel” part of this business, assuming it stands after the lawsuit I figure will be filed. (Thankfully, there was no further discussion of cameras.) By the way, you may have noticed that I’ve altered my nomenclature here, simplifying it to just “robot brothel”. In the end, I found the argument that “robot sex brothel” was redundant. I do note that Texas Monthly has gone the other direction, with “sex robot brothel”. Let the debate rage on! Grits for Breakfast, which elides the brothel aspect of this for a focus on the “sex robot” function, has more.

Robot sex brothel update

It’s all about the permits.

The City of Houston ordered a Canadian company called KinkySDollS to stop the construction of a so-called robot brothel for not having the appropriate permit.

The city, which told the Chronicle this week that they are reviewing ordinances to restrict this kind of enterprise, sent building inspectors to issue a “red tag” to stop work after they noticed they didn’t have the required permits.

To continue construction, the KinkySDollS company will have to first “apply for a demolition permit and submit plans,” said a spokesperson from the mayor’s office.

[…]

They began to build the business in what was previously a hair salon on Richmond, close to Chimney Rock in the Galleria area. Space is located on the second floor of a building and has around 2,500 square feet, according to the salon owner who used to rent that spot.

The concept of the KinkySDollS adult business is similar to a showroom where human-like dolls are erotically displayed and can be rented to be used in private rooms at the location by the hour or half hour. The dolls are made of synthetic skin materials with highly articulated skeletons.

See here for the background. We now have the details about what an effort to ban these places might look like.

Mayor Sylvester Turner will ask the City Council this week to change Houston’s rules on sexually oriented businesses, a change that could prevent a proposed “robot brothel” from opening near the Galleria.

[…]

Traditional sexually oriented businesses like strip clubs long have been prevented from operating within 1,500 feet of churches, schools, day cares, parks and residential neighborhoods — and city-owned Anderson Park is just a few hundred feet from KinkySdollS’ proposed storefront.

The portion of the ordinance Turner wants to revise addresses “adult arcades,” where customers view adult content using an “arcade device.”

The council would amend the definition of an “arcade device” to include not just machines displaying video but also “anthropomorphic devices or objects,” and would prohibit “entertainment with one or more persons using an arcade device on the premises.”

In short, the business could sell the dolls at its proposed location – such models reportedly sell for about $4,000 — but repeated-use rentals would be banned.

I suspect I’ll get my wish to see some litigation come out of this. Beyond that, I don’t really have anything substantive to say, but boy is it going to be hard to resist the temptation to blog about these stories. A style point question: Does it make more sense to say “robot sex brothel”, or “sex robot brothel”? I can make a case for either one, but I feel like we should strive to define a standard, so future generations won’t be confused. Please indicate your preference in the comments.

We need to talk about the robot sex brothel

I can’t avoid it any longer.

In a surprise reveal last week, a Toronto businessman announced that he would be opening the nation’s first robot sex brothel in Houston.

The business, set to open its doors later this month or in early October, will allow customers to rent or purchase a robotic sex doll that, according to the company’s founder, is “warm and ready to play.”

As you might imagine, people had opinions about this.

KinkySdollS, a Canadian company that opened the first North American robot brothel last year in Toronto, unofficially announced via Facebook last month that its first enterprise outside Canada would be in Houston, confirming on the company website that the business was “coming soon” to the Bayou City.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city is currently reviewing existing ordinances — or will consider drafting new ordinances — that could restrict or regulate such enterprises.

“This is not the kind of business I would like to see in Houston, and certainly this is not the kind of business the city is seeking to attract,” Turner said in a written statement to the Houston Chronicle.

[…]

The brothel would apparently not be illegal under current laws, according to experts.

“Unfortunately, there are currently no laws in the U.S. to prevent the sale of the type of dolls intended for this ‘robot brothel,’” said Houston attorney Richard Weaver, who specializes in business law.

“Unless a new ordinance is passed, this business will likely open and operate in Houston,” Weaver said.

Albert Van Huff, a Houston attorney who is familiar with Houston’s sexually oriented business ordinances, said that robot brothels would likely fall under the city’s definition of an adult sexual operation, however, and could likely be regulated for visibility and distances from schools, churches and other religious facilities.

I’ll be honest, I kind of want there to be some litigation over this, just so I can read the briefs and see the arguments. You just know there’s an attorney somewhere who’ll be thinking “three years of law school and months of cramming for the bar exam, for this”. Reading the story, it sounds like there’s a solid public health argument for not allowing the dolls to be rented. Beyond that, I confess I don’t quite get all the fuss. In the year of our Lord 2018, I’ve got bigger things to worry about.