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Adult businesses brace for impact of ordinance
OXFORD — Adult businesses in Oxford have 90 days to comply with a new ordinance approved by town voters, and at least one business owner in the area says that it could threaten his 20-year-old establishment.
"I'm not a rich person," said Thomas Dawson, who owns Tom's Gift and Adult Novelty Shop on Route 26. "I can't afford to go get a lawyer and fight them. The best I can do is try to follow the ordinance."
The ordinance, which was overwhelmingly approved by about 50 taxpayers during a public meeting, will significantly impact the way that Dawson does business.
The ordinance came to a vote last week, shortly after another adult business owner, Robert Ragan of Sexy Secrets Lingerie Boutique, announced plans to open a strip club in town.
Much of Dawson's business is reliant on his provision of private rooms, in which club members can view pornographic movies, singly or in pairs.
The idea of a public space used for sexual purposes is often regarded as seedy and unsuited to a rural community, but Dawson says that he quietly serves a significant portion of the local population.
"Husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends," said Dawson. "Just like a motel."
At least some of Dawson's customers are not established couples.
Dawson's business, along with other similarly-themed businesses in the area, is cited by websites designed to facilitate sexual encounters between strangers, by identifying places in which people looking for sex are likely to find each other. One anonymous poster on such a website described his own sexual encounter at the shop, concluding that there was "plenty of action for me."
Under the new ordinance, any type of sexual contact on the premises will be prohibited.
Dawson says that the ordinance prevents even casual contact.
"I can't shake their hands," said Dawson. "I'm a hugger. The customers who have been coming here for years are my friend; now I can't even greet them."
Dawson says that he allows a safe and discreet outlet for the type of sexual activity that many would like to pretend does not exist in their community.
For years, Dawson has given away free items and services to facilitate safe and consensual sex, including AIDs testing, condoms, and lubricants.
"I've bent over backwards to keep the customers alive and healthy," said Dawson. "It's clean here; it's bright. It's not dirty or despicable. I run a clean business and am working towards saving lives at the same time."
Secondary crime effects
During the public hearing, Oxford Police Chief Jon Tibbetts cited studies that document increased secondary crime effects related to adult businesses.
"These hazards involve not only victimless crimes like prostitution, but also serious crimes like robbery and opportunistic crimes like vandalism," said Tibbetts.
Various studies support the idea that there are links between adult businesses and heightened crime levels.
One study, cited by Tibbetts during the public hearing, appeared in the Criminal Justice Policy Review in 2008. It documented increases in crime of 60 percent when an adult-themed store opened its doors in Montrose, Ill.
Another study, conducted in Louisville, Ky., shows that crime spikes within 1,000 feet of an adult business.
But there are significant differences between the subjects of those studies and Oxford's adult shops.
The Louisville study, and various other studies, look at statistics in urban, high-crime areas.
These types of studies don't necessarily apply to an area like Oxford.
Dawson says that he has actually seen less crime on the premises than the average store owner.
"I've run a business here for 20 years and never had a problem," he said. "I've never had to call the police except when somebody fainted once."
According to Dawson, the negative reaction that many have to sex-oriented businesses is based on antiquated views from a repressed society.
"It's the Elizabethan period," he said. "It's still hanging on."
Dawson said that the move against adult businesses is part of a larger pattern of persecution against those who have sexual identities that are not mainstream.
"They're human beings like everybody else. Just because some men like to dress up in female clothes doesn't mean there's something wrong with them," said Dawson.
Dawson says that he feels the idea of a strip club coming to Oxford frightened residents who would have otherwise continued to peacefully coexist with him.
"I think that scared them," he said. "They've had problems with adult businesses in the past, but they're a lot bigger than Oxford."
Dawson also said that the crowd that turned out to vote wasn't representative of Oxford's broader population.
"I didn't see one of my customers in the room," he said. "There was all church groups there. It was all organized church groups."
Dawson says that, as a member of the community, he and his business have contributed to the community, including responding with donations to solicitations from local church groups, and donating to local firefighter events.
Those who spoke at the meeting indicated that they would like adult businesses to be banned from Oxford.
"I think, from a Christian standpoint," said one resident at the hearing, "What are we doing here in the town? ... I got grand-kids. What am I setting [as a] precedence [sic] for them? What are we setting as a precedence [sic] for the school system? This is crazy."
Town Attorney Geoff Hole said that a town may not ban such businesses, which operate under the protection of the First Amendment. He added that regulations, such as the ordinance approved by Oxford voters, could only focus on mitigating secondary crime effects.