City Hall

Mayor's Campaign Against Convention Center's Exxxotica Expo Is Like Salem Witch Trials

This is very dangerous talk, dangerous for us all. You agree, I agree, we all agree that sexual slavery, especially the enslavement of children for sexual purposes, is an unspeakable evil.

But doesn’t that make it all the more important to be careful and precise in what we say about it? That’s what bothers me most — scares me, more like it — about this hoodoo the mayor of Dallas is stirring to bar a sex industry trade show from the convention center.

Do he and his friends not even think about the kind of psychological horror they are kindling? Do they even know the story of Salem?

History should have taught us by now that the unprincipled exploitation of these issues, the stirring of irrational panic over sex, is as great an evil as any we may face as a community, the modern equivalent of witch burning.

So which is it? Does Dallas need to ban a sex industry trade show from the city convention center because the show truly causes children to be enslaved as prostitutes? Or is that an outrageous and unconscionable lie?

If it’s a lie, why is it told? Are people playing very fast and very loose with accusations here because, 1) they’re cynical, and they have some other aim in mind; 2) they don’t know what they’re talking about; or 3) they’re stark raving mad?

Think about it. You don’t lightly accuse someone of being a child sex-slaver. Something very big has to be going on inside your head — big good or big bad — to say a thing like that.

Over the weekend I read Dallas business leader Ray Hunt’s letter to the City Council. He was asking them to vote this coming Wednesday to bar the sex toy industry from showing its wares at a trade show in the city’s Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center next April. The same convention, called Exxxotica, took place here last year without incident.

In his letter, Hunt offered the following logic: 1) The trade show includes pornography. 2) Pornography is linked to prostitution and human trafficking. 3) To allow the convention to take place on city-owned property would be tantamount to an official endorsement or appearance of endorsement of pornography, prostitution and human trafficking.
Here is how he put it in his letter:

“EXXXOTICA is an organization that self-describes itself as ‘pornographic.’ Further, it is definitely engaged in the sex trade. As such, I personally believe that EXXXOTICA constitutes an activity that runs totally counter to the values, mores and beliefs of the vast majority of the citizens of the City of Dallas.

“Further, for a ‘convention’ of this nature to occur in a facility owned by the City of Dallas would create the image that the City of Dallas welcomes, and is receptive of, this type of activity. I believe the City is NOT.”

Hunt said: “One can also make arguments that would associate activities of organizations such as EXXXOTICA to issues involving public safety, human trafficking and prostitution.”

Here is a thing you should know: Last year when this convention was here, the mayor persuaded the chief of police to send undercover vice officers into the convention to look for arrest-worthy offenses. In a subsequent closed-door “executive” session of the City Council, city lawyers told council members that the undercover agents had been unable to spot a single criminal activity, a single event or act or circumstance that was in violation of the law.

That was no accident. The Exxxotica convention was carried on in conformity with a strict list of rules. The entire convention had to take place within a closed area. No portion of the convention could be visible from outside that area. There could be no total nudity. The rules were even specific to the manner in which nipples of men and women could be covered or uncovered, how and with what.

Were these the rules that the Dallas convention center imposed on the convention? No. They were rules the convention imposed on itself but provided in a list sent to the city so officials could know what to expect.

Think back to Hunt’s letter. He even puts the word, convention, in quotation marks, as a sneering suggestion that such an event could hardly be anything so innocent or benign as a true business convention. But what kind of mentality does that express? Is there not a legitimate industry that sells sexual accoutrements? Can it not hold a convention?

I looked up Hunt’s residence on the tax rolls. I won’t say what part of town it’s in, because I’m not out to cause him personal trouble. But I also looked up a bunch of addresses for condom and sex toy stores, and he’s a short drive from several. So are those not legitimate businesses? Can those companies not participate in a trade show without being accused of complicity in child sexual enslavement?

What does it do to the real problem of child sexual enslavement to call it up like an imaginary wolf cry every time you want a bounce out of people?

Hunt’s wife, Nancy Ann Hunt, is chair of a group called New Friends New Life, based in Dallas. A statement on its web page says, “New Friends New Life restores and empowers formerly trafficked teen girls and sexually exploited women and their children.”

The web page also presents an “open letter to the citizens of Dallas” urging that the City Council ban Exxxotica from the convention center on two grounds. The first is a legal argument that is false and misleading, according to the advice the council received from city lawyers in the closed-door session last year. The New Friends public letter claims that anything sexually oriented taking place in the convention center would violate city ordinances that govern how close a sexually oriented business can be to schools, churches and certain other uses.

All those questions were raised last year when the mayor objected to Exxxotica then. City lawyers made it plain to the council that the proximity laws govern sexual activities themselves, not a convention of retailers of merchandise.

The second argument in the Friends letter probably gets closer to their own true feeling and commitment: “What kind of a city do we want to be?” they ask. “One that is afraid to enforce its own laws that by their own terms are designed to ‘promote the health, safety, morals and general welfare of the citizens of Dallas?’ The answer obviously is no.”

That’s one you have to turn over a little in your mind to grasp. “What kind of city?” What does that mean? It’s both broad and profound, a question about the moral, social and cultural nature of the city.

By the way, I did call Katie Pedigo, the $95,000-a-year CEO of New Friends, and asked to speak to her. I was told she was in, but she did not return my call, so I have to guess a little here. When I put their open letter together with other statements on their web page, I see a sincere commitment to rescuing women and children from prostitution.

I also see a more realistic assessment of the problem than I have seen elsewhere — more emphasis on poverty, terrible parents and addiction, less emphasis on the stereotypical mythology of Svengali-like pimps and their magical powers of seduction. In other words, I see more evidence of research and less of right-wing sexual superstition.

But even at that — and especially in this drive against the Kay Bailey Hutchison sex expo — the group displays the same troubling disregard for truth that has made a fool of so many other conservative sex reform groups in the past. Last June, Glenn Kessler in The Washington Post looked at a dispute going on then in anti-child-sex-slave circles — whether the trafficking of children in the United States was a $9.8 billion annual industry or a $9.5 billion annual industry, one figure touted by one anti-child-sex-slave member of Congress, the other by another anti-child-sex-slave member. As it turned out, neither figure had any basis in fact at all and no one had the slightest idea what the real figure might be.

With charges this heinous, there is no such thing as an innocent mistake. Getting it wrong, exaggerating the threat and then pointing a finger is the same as piling the bundled kindling at the witch’s stake.

A quarter century ago when a child-sex Satanism fever swept the country, East Texas was a focal center of the panic. Upright citizens were accused of field-dressing babies in the woods like wild hogs and flying drugged children to Mexico in black helicopters for orgies.

Moral panic has its own rules. The more utterly outlandish the charge, the more believable it became for those seized by the fever. Fran and Dan Keller, who operated a preschool in Austin, were given half-century sentences in 1992 on the testimony of a sole witness. They were released after 23 years when that testimony was revealed to have been false.

The circumstances surrounding the Keller trial have been compared to the “hysterical delusions of 17th-century Salem.” It happened in a place really not that far away from us in a time not that long ago. If anything, these deeply sexual superstitious panics seem to occur on a 20- to 30-year cycle, like a Jungian demon reaching up out of our prehistoric graves to throttle every last ounce of civilized reason we’ve been able to muster in millennia of evolution.

That’s the kind of black magic the mayor, Ray Hunt and the New Friends group are toying with here. They have to know — because the police told them last year — that there isn’t an ounce of illegality in this convention.

It’s about sex. Not sexual exploitation. Do we not know the difference? Do we believe that sex itself is the problem, the slippery slope to depravity? And if we believe that, why not come out and say it, instead of dishonestly exploiting the issue of child sex slavery as a way to arouse the masses?

Because sex is so important and runs so deep in our souls, there may be no more fiendish lie than a sexual lie.
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze