Connecticut Attorney General's Office

Press Release

Attorney General Fights To Uphold Rights To Regulate Sexually Oriented Businesses

August 5, 2009

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, in a formal brief, has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to overturn a decision that may jeopardize the ability of all towns and cities to regulate sexually oriented businesses.

Blumenthal, joined by Berlin Mayor Adam Salina, announced this action at a press conference today.

"Sexually oriented businesses have no business being where localities legitimately bar them," Blumenthal said.

In the case of VIP of Berlin, LLC v. Town of Berlin, the U.S. District Court preliminarily ruled that Berlin's ordinance defining an adult oriented store was unconstitutionally vague.

The ruling would allow VIP to open a store in Berlin within 250 feet of a residential neighborhood that contains almost 200 homes. Berlin is appealing the decision.

Blumenthal filed an amicus brief in support of Berlin's appeal because the case could have significant ramifications statewide, affecting the ability of all municipalities to regulate sexually oriented businesses within their borders and thereby protect the health, safety, and general welfare of Connecticut's citizens.

"This battle is bigger than Berlin -- because all towns and cities have rights and responsibilities to protect their citizens from businesses that sell sex material," Blumenthal said. "Such businesses bring serious crime, reduced property values and lower quality of life.

"The harms are well documented and demonstrated -- and demand wise use of local public safety powers. Regulating sex-related businesses goes to core local public safety functions. Connecticut municipalities have rightfully restricted sexually oriented businesses, barring them from residential neighborhoods or other areas where they undermine property values and safety. We're asking the federal appeals court to restore and preserve essential rights by reversing the lower court.

"Across the state, the sex business has become big business -- including adult bookstores, adult theaters, massage parlors, and facilities featuring live nude entertainment. Studies show that such businesses cause increased crime, especially sex-related offenses, reduced property values, deterioration of neighboring businesses, and a lower quality of life for residents.

"Citizens of Berlin led by Mayor Salina are at the forefront of a statewide fight against a proliferating problem. I am grateful for his perseverance and leadership and the courage of Berlin's citizens who have so persuasively attested to real and immediate safety concerns. Living in the vicinity of sexually oriented businesses, residents have complained about safety concerns, excessive noise, parking problems, discarded sexually oriented material on residential lawns, visible explicit signage, and the performance of sexual acts in public places."

Salina said, "This brief bolsters Berlin's critical fight to protect our community from the well-documented harm of sexually oriented businesses. These businesses should be barred from operating near residential homes where they may attract crime and detract the quality of neighborhoods. We are grateful that Attorney General Blumenthal has fought by our side from the start, and we are committed to continue this fight as far as necessary."

Blumenthal says the U.S. Supreme Court has firmly established that the right of freedom of speech is not absolute.

Blumenthal cited the case of Renton v. Playtime Theatres, in which the court upheld the city's right to restrict the location of adult movie theaters in order to "prevent crime, protect the city's retail trade, maintain property values, and generally protect and preserve the quality of the city's neighborhoods, commercial districts, and the quality of urban life."

Based on Renton, courts across the country have upheld the constitutionality of municipal ordinances designed to control the negative secondary effects of sexually oriented businesses, including ordinances that, like Berlin's, define sexually oriented businesses as establishments whose inventories include a "substantial or significant" amount of sexually oriented material.

The serious, adverse secondary effects of sexually oriented businesses are well documented in studies of cities and towns from across the country. Blumenthal citied several studies, including at least one that revealed that serious sex-related crimes -- rape, indecent exposure, obscene conduct, child molestation, adult molestation, and commercial sex -- occurred at a rate 77 percent higher in areas with sexually oriented business.