‘Robot brothel’ planned for Houston draws fast opposition from mayor, advocacy group
A Toronto company’s plan to open a sex service in Houston offering “adult love dolls” available “to rent before you buy” has sparked opposition from city leaders and an online campaign to keep so-called robot brothels out of the city.
KinkySdollS, a Canadian company that opened the first North American robot brothel last year in Toronto, unofficially announced via Facebook last month that its first enterprise outside Canada would be in Houston, confirming on the company website that the business was “coming soon” to the Bayou City.
Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city is currently reviewing existing ordinances — or will consider drafting new ordinances — that could restrict or regulate such enterprises.
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“This is not the kind of business I would like to see in Houston, and certainly this is not the kind of business the city is seeking to attract,” Turner said in a written statement to the Houston Chronicle.
Elijah Rising, a Houston nonprofit organization whose mission is to end sex trafficking, has initiated a petition on change.org calling on the mayor to stop the business from coming to the city, with nearly 7,000 signatures collected as of Tuesday.
“The business of robot dolls only reinforces the idea that women are just body objects or properties,” said David Gamboa, one of the directors of Elijah Rising. “We don’t need this in a city like Houston where we already have a major problem with sex trafficking.”
KinkySdollS did not respond to a request for comment.
Health, legal concerns
The brothel would apparently not be illegal under current laws, according to experts.
“There are currently no laws in the U.S. to prevent the sale of the type of dolls intended for this ‘robot brothel,’” said Houston attorney Richard Weaver, who specializes in business law.
“Unless a new ordinance is passed, this business will likely open and operate in Houston,” Weaver said.
Albert Van Huff, a Houston attorney who has represented strip clubs, said the robot brothels would likely fall under the city’s definition of an adult sexual operation, however, and could likely be regulated for visibility and distances from schools, churches and other religious facilities.
Supporters say the robot brothels can reduce human trafficking by substituting life-like dolls for real victims. Others say they pose potential health hazards and could contribute to the spread of venereal disease.
“The concern from the public health standpoint is that (the dolls) would have to be very well sanitized if they are going to be shared in order to prevent the spread of diseases,” said Elizabeth Perez, spokesperson for Harris County Public Health. “Anywhere you are touching an area with multiple people’s traces, there is risk for potential diseases.”
Perez said the use of condoms would be important to avoid sexually transmitted diseases.
Real Love Sex Dolls of Austin, the top seller of life-size sex dolls in the United States, recommends that customers refrain from sharing the dolls.
“They are one-man women and not meant to be shared,” said Stacey Townsend, chief executive of Real Love Sex Dolls, noting that women are also among the customer base, as are couples and people who use them for therapeutic purposes.
She said the dolls are made from thermoplastic elastomer, or TPE, and silicone, and “cannot be completely sterilized after use.”
KinkySdollS offers a variety of human-like dolls with articulated skeletal structures.
The dolls are set up in a showroom where patrons can rent them for a half-hour for $80, or $120 for a full hour, according to its website. Customers can also buy the dolls for about $4,000.
The company says it offers “a unique service to those who (are) looking for a companion.”
Such businesses began making inroads in Asia and Europe before coming to North America. A report from the Foundation for Responsible Robotics, headquartered in The Netherlands, found that sexual robots could replace sex trafficking and forced prostitution, although no evidence was found to indicate that they had.
Others see the industry as harmful and diminishing to women.
“This is mechanized pornography,” Gamboa said.
Gamboa said that Elijah Rising’s petition is not against sex toys in general but the robot brothels.
“We want all brothels to close, but this one is just absurd,” he said.