Pasco deputies sweep strip clubs for human trafficking signs

The new rule is to raise human trafficking awareness and help stop it.

Pasco sheriff's deputies wait outside Icon, a strip club on U.S. 19 in Hudson, as inspectors inside check Tuesday to see if the club is complying with rules designed to battle human trafficking. Josh Solomon   |   Times
Pasco sheriff's deputies wait outside Icon, a strip club on U.S. 19 in Hudson, as inspectors inside check Tuesday to see if the club is complying with rules designed to battle human trafficking.Josh Solomon | Times
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HUDSON — There was no dancing when deputies and code enforcement officers were at Icon, a strip joint on U.S. 19 just south of County Line Road, on Monday afternoon.

Except for the 20 or so officials, the club was nearly vacant: two dance poles, but no dancers. And the several dozen velvet seats that faced the poles had nobody in them. The handful of working women occupied the handful of men sitting at the bar.

But the deputies didn't mind the empty stage, as they were there to ensure that the club was in compliance with a new county ordinance requiring anti-human trafficking signs in adult entertainment establishments.

The ordinance, which went into effect Dec. 1, mandates that "sexually oriented businesses" hang certain signs in certain places. The signs, which include a message in English, Spanish and Mandarin, offer resources for people who believe they or someone they know are victims of human trafficking.

"What we're doing in Pasco … is saying we're going to take an aggressive approach to ensure (human trafficking) doesn't get embedded," Cpl. Alan Wilkett said, "and if it's here, that we want to uncover it."

A state law already existed requiring that signs be hung in highway rest stops, truck stops, weigh stations, welcome centers and in the lobbies of strip clubs, among other places. But the county ordinance takes it a step further, requiring that an additional sign be hung in club dressing rooms and in each individual restroom stall.

The language in the county sign, which poses questions aimed at getting people to think about whether they're being trafficked — "Have you ever been hit or made to perform sexual acts at work (or by someone connected to your work) that you don't want to?" "Do you have a manager, driver or someone else who controls your money or schedule?" — was developed by the county with the help of a human trafficking survivor.

Violating the ordinance could lead to a fine of $250 per day per missing sign. Icon had all of the appropriate signs up except for one that had been torn down inside a restroom stall. The club wasn't cited for an ordinance violation, though, Wilkett said. The owner was cooperative with deputies.

At another club, Lollipops, also on U.S. 19 and just south of Icon, deputies and code enforcement officers issued a citation for a lack of proper signage, and for using a shipping container adjacent to the building as a dressing room, which presented a fire hazard, officials said.

There are 17 licensed strip clubs in Pasco County, according to the Sheriff's Office. Deputies have been visiting each one to ensure compliance with the ordinance.

There are at least 20.9 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, Wilkett said, and the United States is one of the largest consumers of human trafficking. Florida, the corporal said, is particularly vulnerable to trafficking, because of the large amount of tourism.

Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected] Follow @josh_solomon15.

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