The Kokomo Common Council soon will consider an ordinance to license adult-oriented performers, but at least one local club owner feels the proposed law may target the wrong people. And he has an alternative for the council members to consider.

Put the burden on the club owners, not the performers.

Don Draper has operated the Hip Hugger in Kokomo for decades. The gentleman’s club is the oldest in the city and has garnered a national reputation within its industry. Of the six such clubs in Kokomo, his has the least detrimental impact on the community in terms of law enforcement requirements and is discreet in appearance. If a community must have a strip club, Draper believes his is the model to emulate.

“I’ve been doing this long enough to know that clubs like mine serve a purpose that a lot of people may not realize,” said Draper. “Whether you agree with what goes on here, I’m providing employment to a lot of young women who need an income and don’t have other options in front of them.

“You want to argue that they could be doing something else? What? We just went through a recession that put people with college degrees out of work for years on end. There isn’t something out there that’s going to pay as much for these women.”

That income is at the heart of Draper’s proposal. The women generally dance for the money first and foremost, and a licensing fee takes a portion of it away. That means less money for groceries, for rent, for gasoline. The bar owner feels this would serve to punish the performers, not protect them.

“Here’s the thing about a license,” said Draper. “The only people who get them are the ones who follow the law.”

Proponents of licensing have argued that gathering information on the performers, such as actual names, addresses, and other identifying data, provides local law enforcement for a tool with which to battle human trafficking. In the event that a woman is brought to this community to provide adult entertainment under coercion, the license would prevent or deter such behavior or alternately help investigators expose instances of trafficking.

It sounds good, Draper said, but in practice it probably will miss the mark.

“First, I don’t allow trafficking in my business,” said Draper. “That’s my responsibility to my customers and my community. Second, forcing the girls who perform her legally to give their names and addresses isn’t going to protect them. It’s going to expose them and maybe even endanger them.

“A lot of the performers I employ come to Kokomo from nearby communities. They use stage names. Why do they do it? Because they don’t want friends and family knowing that they dance for a living. How does the license help them?”

All that said, Draper concedes that human trafficking is a concern, as is illegal drug use, prostitution, and any number of other potential offenses that may be attracted by a gentleman’s club that isn’t operated responsibly. That’s why he isn’t fully opposed to a licensing program.

If the city chose to instead license the bar owners, the liability and responsibility falls to them to ensure these illegal activities don’t take place.

“If you’re doing it right, you already don’t have a problem with that stuff,” said Draper. “I’m willing to put up the money to get a license and show the city I’m cooperative and run my business appropriately. There’s not a lot of money in adult entertainment for the owners these days, but we’re still better suited to take on the expense than our employees are.”

Draper said he hasn’t been approached by the council members yet about the licensing, but he would be willing to provide information as they explore the issue. He also pointed out that he has welcomed the same activists seeking the licensing to visit his club and try to help the entertainers as much as they can.

“They’re my employees; I care about them,” said Draper. “If these ladies believe they can make a difference, and they aren’t disrupting anything, I’m happy to let them do what they can to help.”