Gina Davidson: Oldest profession needs new rules

Robert Louis Stevenson is said to have frequented brothels. Picture: Getty
Robert Louis Stevenson is said to have frequented brothels. Picture: Getty
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YESTERDAY Edinburgh celebrated Robert Louis Stevenson day, which offered up a feast of events for fans of the great author.

There were guided walks galore of his haunts and favoured places, but I wonder if any of them took in the streets where once stood the brothels that Stevenson would frequent.

For Edinburgh and prostitution have a relationship of long-standing. That’s hardly surprising given the sex-for-cash industry’s reputation as the world’s oldest and Stevenson is just one of countless thousands of men to take advantage of such a service.

But the “romantic ideal” of Victorian brothels is best kept to the scripts of Ripper Street. Modern day prostitution is much more commercial, and in Edinburgh at least it has, for many years, revolved around the city’s saunas.

During the 1980s when the city was the Aids capital of Europe, there came to be an understanding that to protect the women who work in the sex industry from HIV and the violence dished out to those selling sex on the streets, the best approach was to license premises.

The women would be indoors, safe, protected from disease and perhaps most importantly, the women would be known. Public health officials would be able to find them to make sure safe sex was being practised and regular Aids tests carried out, those who were on drugs could be given help to come off them, there could even be help for those who wanted out altogether. Meanwhile the licensees would have to remain in the police’s and council’s good books in order to carry on. They were even paying something into council coffers for the public entertainment licence.

And this view became further entrenched when attempts to create a safe street district consistently met with failure.

While no-one would ever suggest that saunas are wonderful, that having sex with strangers for money is a career choice, that the men who make money from the sex trade are not exploitative, it’s a policy which has worked for Edinburgh.

It’s unsurprising then that the way the police recently conducted sauna raids – apparently because of evidence of human trafficking and money laundering supplied by the Procurator Fiscal – was shocking and suggested that a more Glasgow-orientated stance is now in place.

But something has gone wrong with the licensed approach to saunas. Have those checks and balances the public thought were in place been happening or has the one blind eye become two? Certainly the police would say saunas have become no-go areas for them because of the licence, and as a result they have become places where organised crime has begun to take over. That cannot be allowed to happen.

But if licensing meant proper regulation and frequent inspections, that criminality could well be stopped. Sauna owners need to know they’re under scrutiny. Tomorrow the council will likely vote to consult on the licensing of saunas. But if licences are lost, saunas won’t close, they’ll just become more dangerous for women working there as owners will have less incentive to stick to any standards.

Saunas will only close because, like most industries, they face competition from the internet. The oldest profession, after all, is also the most adaptable.

Show is reassuring

Are you watching Gogglebox on Channel 4? It’s become a must-watch in our house, a weekly affirmation that the society we live in is, in the main, kind, compassionate and tolerant.

Taxi secrets are no longer safe

THE idea that taxi cabs should install CCTV in order to keep drivers safe has left me rather conflicted.

On the one hand, what’s the problem given that we’re filmed walking along most Edinbugh streets and also when we travel by bus. So why not in cabs?

And yet... business people aside, I would gauge that most taxi journeys are taken when people are on a night out and ultimately a bit worse for wear. Any idea of cab-cams capturing drunken snogging and the spilling of secrets seems too much of an invasion of privacy... and too tempting to put the film on YouTube.

14 years not long enough for Modiak

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The 14 years he served for that attack were too short. The proof of that is he’s back behind bars after attempting to stab a bouncer outside a Blackpool club. He’d changed his name to Wood, but his reprehensible character has obviously never altered.

Society will pay for loss of talent

It’s been a tough few weeks in these offices as a shake-up in the way the three newspapers based here will be produced, which sadly will see the loss of many talented people. I’ve been told it sounds simplistic – and self-interested – to encourage people to buy newspapers when the internet delivers all people want for free. But without journalists and newspapers, the cost to society will be huge.