Newsmonger: Strip-club regs stalled, military still mishandling sexual assault reports

Pastie Party

Strippers in local clubs can stick to their pasties, for now.

The city this week had planned to start enforcing its new strip-club ordinance, which stipulates that any cabarets or clubs that want to dodge being labeled a “sexually oriented business” must make dancers cover up with bikini tops. Last month some 13 clubs sued the city over the new ordinance, claiming it violates the First Amendment rights of clubs and entertainers, and asked for a temporary restraining order to stop the city from enforcing it.

Last week, the case was re-assigned to Chief U.S. District Judge Fred Biery, who presided over a 2003 lawsuit challenging the city's ban of VIP rooms and full-nude dancing — the parties eventually settled, and SA's still a no-nude city.

Biery, booked with back-to-back trials, issued an order last week maintaining the status quo, keeping the city from enforcing its ordinance for at least another two weeks until a hearing can be held on the clubs' TRO request.

The new ordinance seeks to impose criminal penalties against businesses that fail to register with the city as a sexually oriented business or run afoul of the ordinance, raising violations from a Class C to a Class A misdemeanor. Performers wearing anything less than a bikini would have to register as a sexually oriented business, which cannot operate within 1,000 feet of schools, residential zones, churches or other places of worship, schools or parks. The ordinance also added licensed child care facilities to that list.

The city claims clubs have skirted the ordinance by slapping pasties on their dancers and skipping the SOB registration.

The City of San Antonio argues that such clubs bring down the rest of the community — they're likely to use last week's shooting at Sugar's, a club whose owners have joined the lawsuit as a plaintiff, as a case in point.

Military lacks clear sexual assault policies

At last month's House Armed Services Committee hearing on the abuse scandal at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, Air Force Chief of Staff, told Congress officials are still trying to understand why so few sexual assault victims report their abuse. “Why, on the worst day of their life, don't they come forward?” Welsh questioned. “That's the heart of the problem. People don't feel comfortable coming forward, and they do not routinely report either sexual harassment, and that is one of the biggest problems we have.”

The Department of Defense says that only roughly 14 percent of military sexual assaults get reported, something advocates blame on a military culture that turns a blind eye or superiors who threaten victims who come forward with career-ending retaliation. Perhaps another reason is that the military has been slow to develop sexual-assault policies, as outlined in a Government Accountability Office report last week.

According to the report, treatment isn't always available for victims who report abuse. Medical first-responders are under-trained, or are not always aware of what services sexual assault survivors should receive, the report says. Even further, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, which oversees military's health care, has yet to, as required by the Pentagon, establish “guidance for the treatment of injuries stemming from sexual assault.” Those DOD guidelines call for standardizing evidence-collecting procedures, providing specialized care for rape victims, and providing a way to keep survivors' identities private.

Particularly alarming are problems with victim confidentiality. In theory, victims can report assault two ways, making either “unrestricted” reports — meaning survivors tells military law enforcement of the abuse, which in turn, hopefully, prompts medical care, counseling, and an investigation — or  “restricted” reports, where they can inform superiors without sparking an investigation, but still get medical care while remaining anonymous.

But as it stands, the system leaves “confusion for health care providers regarding the extent of their responsibility to maintain confidentiality of victims who choose to make a restricted report of sexual assault,” the report says. At least one base was not keeping victims' identities a secret, the report states.

“These inconsistencies can put DOD's restricted reporting option at risk, undermine DOD's efforts to address sexual assault issues, and erode service members' confidence,” the report says. “As a consequence, sexual assault victims who want to keep their case confidential may be reluctant to seek medical care.”

Egg-ceptionally odd

District 8 Council hopeful Rolando Briones is off to a strange, shaky start.

Briones was the subject of a glowing profile piece that appeared in San Antonio Man magazine's December/January issue, which largely lauded the success of Briones' construction firm, Briones Consulting & Engineering, Ltd. The piece leads with Briones telling us he was fired from the San Antonio Water System in 2002 when he refused to eat a raw egg during a bizarre team building exercise. The incident is mentioned as a turning point for Briones.

Express-News metro columnist Brian Chasnoff was the first to catch the claim, sniff it out, and call it bullshit. It never happened, Briones now says. He told the Current the whole flap was a “terrible, unfortunate misunderstanding,” that he never claimed the incident actually happened to him, and that he only used as a way to give the magazine “an impression of how bad things were” under then SAWS CEO Eugene Habiger, a retired Air Force General.

Even if you believe Briones, what's strange is that he let the falsehood sit, uncorrected, for nearly two months without trying to set the record straight. Even more strange is that he would do anything to call attention to his public, contentious departure from SAWS.

In 2002, competing vendors on a SAWS contract Briones oversaw complained that he'd wrongly favored the winning company. Briones and his boss, former SAWS distribution VP Gustavo González, were fired after internal auditors investigated and found the two violated company policy by accepting gifts from the vendors. Briones and González lost their appeals to an internal review committee.

Briones and González then sued SAWS in federal court, arguing SAWS had no set rules or limits on gifts from contractors — Briones says his “reputation was unfairly tarnished” by the incident. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit at SAWS' request.

The Current asked Briones if he had tried to get San Antonio Man magazine to correct their piece (the profile's author failed to return calls for comment).

“I didn't even think of that being an option,” he said. “It's all already out there.”

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