Is lap dancing prostitution?
Is a woman’s pushing her bare breasts into a man’s face for a dollar or two prostitution?
Janesville police and the Rock County District Attorney’s Office think so, based on the arrests and the criminal complaints filed.
“The way we typically deal with vice crime in Janesville is by complaint because we don’t have a lot of vice crime in Janesville,” Police Chief Neil Mahan said. “We received a complaint (about Screamin’ MeeMees) and investigated it.”
Investigators then followed the evidence and found what they consider to be prostitution at Screamin’ MeeMees, 402 W. Delavan Drive, Mahan said.
The complaint was from a female employee last June. It led to an undercover investigation and the arrests of three Milwaukee women last summer after officers reported being solicited to pay for sex acts.
The investigation also led to the issuance of search warrants for video records kept at various locations by Screamin’ MeeMees owners Jim and Rebecca Halbach.
Investigators still are reviewing the recordings, and undercover officers have periodically revisited the club, Mahan said.
Prosecutors reviewed the police reports and issued charges, so it is apparent they, too, think people were essentially buying and selling sex. The Janesville Gazette was not able to reach Rock County District Attorney David O’Leary for comment.
At least 16 people have been charged with misdemeanor prostitution, most as dancers, three as clients. Some of the charges cite sexual activity—such as masturbation and oral sex or the offer of oral sex—for money.
Most of the charges cite sexual contact for money: the rubbing or touching of breasts, buttocks or genitalia against another person.
Some of the incidents alleged in criminal complaints involve more blatant activity: A naked dancer unbuttoning a man’s pants and rubbing her breasts on his crotch. Nude dancers putting their heads between men’s legs. Men touching dancers’ breasts, buttocks and pubic areas.
Some of the alleged acts—men fondling women’s breasts—are obviously sexual acts. Some of the alleged acts simulate sexual intercourse and oral sex.
But, as described by Mahan, touching or rubbing genitalia, breasts or buttocks against another person for money constitutes prostitution.
For years, the lap dance and stage antics such as rubbing breasts in men’s faces have been staples of strip clubs in and near Rock County.
Will local authorities other than Janesville police make prostitution busts for such activities?
Asked about the lap dance scenario, Town of Beloit Police Chief John Wilson said that if a lap dance at The Bear Chest, the sole strip club in his township, simulated sex, his officers would make prostitution arrests.
“Yes,” he said. “If you have simulated sex, if the district attorney has given a complaint based on activity (similar to that) described to the Janesville Police Department, we would do the same thing.”
But, Wilson added, “before we do something like this, we would check with the district attorney’s office. We have not had complaints out of The Bear Chest on anything like this.”
The Bear Chest is one of three strip clubs in Rock County. It serves alcohol and is open to people 21 and older.
Screamin’ MeeMees is the only strip club in Janesville city limits. It does not serve alcohol and is open to people 18 and older.
The county’s other strip club is Diamond Jim’s & The Isabella Queen in Rock Township. It serves alcohol and is open to people 21 and older.
The Halbachs own both Screamin’ MeeMees and Diamond Jim’s.
Enforcement of prostitution through sexual contact at Diamond Jim’s would be “based on the entire event, what exactly took place,” Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden said. “The very act of someone sitting on someone’s lap to my view is not sex.”
But simulating sex for money could be another story, he said.
“I would have to give that serious consideration,” Spoden said. “You would have to take into account the totality of all the events. … We’re looking at some of the evidence Janesville (police) gathered. We have not yet determined whether there was any illegal activity there or not.
“Once we’ve looked at everything, we’d have to make a decision as to what crosses the line,” Spoden said.
The sheriff was asked if he would consider it prostitution if a dancer simulated sex and touched a patron for money.
“Yes, that’s how I would view it,” he replied, adding: “It would depend on exactly what happened at that establishment. …
“It’s so varied. It depends on the nature of it, the participants in each case. Each case is going to be different.
“No case is black and white,” the sheriff said.
As with Mahan, Spoden said such enforcement for the sheriff’s department is triggered by complaints.
“We’ve never received a complaint about Diamond Jim’s,” he said.
Deputies walk through Diamond Jim’s regularly for bar checks, Spoden said, and they reported “typical dance routines and all the bartenders are licensed. … We have no cause to investigate based on our regular activities.”
The sheriff also pointed out that his department has limited resources and many other crimes to investigate.
“Our first priority is crimes where there is violence and victims who have been hurt or whose property has been stolen or damaged. We have a limited number of detectives we can use. We try to prioritize cases where we have concerns,” Spoden said.
Mahan said he has no agenda regarding Screamin’ MeeMees other than his overarching agenda for the city: “Fight crime and make the city safe. There is no (strip club) agenda. It’s simply a matter of the investigation itself dictating the direction and level of enforcement actions. …
“I don’t know what happens in every other strip club in Wisconsin,” the chief said. “What I have a pretty good handle on is what’s going on in the club at 402 W. Delavan Drive.
“And that’s what our arrests are based on.”
Too early to talk license: Chief
Despite more than 15 arrests on prostitution charges resulting from an investigation into activity at Janesville’s only strip club, it would be premature to discuss pulling Screamin’ MeeMees’ adult entertainment license, Police Chief Neil Mahan said.
An integral part of making a case to revoke the license of the non-alcoholic club at 402 W. Delavan Drive would be prostitution convictions, not simply charges, Mahan said.
His department’s priority is the ongoing criminal investigation, not shutting the business down, the chief said.
“If we have convictions of prostitution or the case is resolved in some way, then it would be time to review the license issue,” Mahan said, adding:
“I don’t want to do anything on the license side to jeopardize the criminal case, and the criminal case is still pending.”
Screamin’ MeeMees’ adult entertainment license is issued to Rebecca Halbach, wife of Jim Halbach.
The Halbachs also own and operate Diamond Jim’s & The Isabella Queen, a tavern and strip bar serving alcohol and food at 6530 S. Highway 51 in Rock Township.
Janesville’s license ordinance prohibits not only sexual acts but also physical contact between patrons and performers. Most of the prostitution charges allege payment for sexual contact—rubbing breasts, buttocks or genitalia against another person.
Violations of the Janesville ordinance can result in a hearing before the city council to suspend, revoke or not renew the license, provisions mirrored in the ordinance for alcohol licenses.
Anybody may file charges of violations, but the chief of police specifically is mentioned in the license ordinance.
A former Janesville police chief, George Brunner, is council president.
Asked about reviewing Screamin’ MeeMees’ adult entertainment license, Brunner replied:
“It’s really difficult for me to comment because all we’ve seen is what’s been in the media. All that we’ve been told is that the investigation is ongoing, so we really have nothing to review at this point. …
“Based on the outcome of the investigation, it would be appropriate to review the status of the entertainment license,” Brunner added
Russ Steeber, a lieutenant at the Rock County Sheriff’s Department, also sits on the Janesville City Council.
Asked about the adult entertainment license, Steeber said:
“I don’t have enough information as to what actually happened. I haven’t seen any police reports on it. The principle of innocent until proven guilty still applies even though this is a license issue.
“I would have to consult with the city attorney to see if we have any recourse of review prior to charges being disposed of in court,” Steeber said, adding:
“While the arrests are probably well founded, I don’t have enough information to make a decision either way right now.”
The law under which prostitution has been charged at Screamin’ MeeMees in Janesville is not new or amended.
Janesville Police Chief Neil Mahan said he has not re-interpreted the law to make arrests for prostitution based on sexual contact for money. Investigation of a prostitution complaint at Screamin’ MeeMees, 402 W. Delavan Drive, produced evidence that showed crimes were being committed, the chief said.
Wisconsin Statute 944.30 on prostitution reads:
Any person who intentionally does any of the following is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor:
(1) Has or offers to have or requests to have non-marital sexual intercourse for anything of value.
(2) Commits or offers to commit or requests to commit an act of sexual gratification, in public or in private, involving the sex organ of one person and the mouth or anus of another for anything of value.
(3) Is an inmate of a place of prostitution.
(4) Masturbates a person or offers to masturbate a person or requests to be masturbated by a person for anything of value.
(5) Commits or offers to commit or requests to commit an act of sexual contact for anything of value.
Section 1 of Statute 939.22(34) defines sexual contact as:
“The intentional touching of the clothed or unclothed intimate parts of another person with any part of the body clothed or unclothed or with any object or device, the intentional touching of any part of the body clothed or unclothed of another person with the intimate parts of the body clothed or unclothed, or the intentional penile ejaculation of ejaculate or the intentional emission of urine or feces upon any part of the body clothed or unclothed of another person, if that intentional touching, ejaculation or emission is for the purpose of sexual humiliation, sexual degradation, sexual arousal or gratification.”