Police’s ban on sauna condoms ‘will risk lives’

Critics fear the police proposal would ruin decades of sexual health education. Picture: Toby Williams
Critics fear the police proposal would ruin decades of sexual health education. Picture: Toby Williams
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A POLICE bid to ban condoms from the Capital’s saunas will put lives at risk, two major charities have warned.

HIV group the Terrence Higgins Trust and sex worker organisation Scot-Pep savaged the proposal, which they said would ruin decades of sexual health education.

Police chiefs set out the 
controversial plans in a letter to the city’s licensing committee, which will tomorrow rule on the fate of several saunas fighting to save their licences.

The letter asks the city council to add new conditions to licences, including that “no items of a sexual nature will be permitted on the premises”.

But Robert McKay, national director of Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland, branded the suggestion “Draconian”.

He said: “Taking away condoms will not stop people from having sex, it will only result in unprotected sex and increased rates of HIV and STDs.

“Our point of view is to make sure that people are kept safe. Condoms have proved very successful in preventing STDs and HIV transmissions.”

The call for a ban on condoms in saunas follows a series of raids in March involving 150 police officers that saw six premises – almost half of Edinburgh’s 13 saunas – have their licences suspended by councillors at the request of police.

Many were later allowed to remain open after lodging appeals against the decision, but all 13 are up for their annual renewal tomorrow.

Letters of objection from police over ten saunas have been passed to councillors.

Council insiders previously said they expected the vote to go in favour of them carrying on.

Critics suggested the unexpected swoop signalled a move away from the Capital’s traditionally more tolerant attitude towards the sex industry, something repeatedly denied by Police Scotland.

Scot-Pep board member Neil McCulloch said: “This is a return to the dark days of the 80s when an HIV epidemic swept through the city.

“There is no denying that this is a definite change in approach – this ceases to be about sex being sold, this is about sex.”

A recent report by the World Health Organisation into the practice of police using condoms as evidence of sex taking place encouraged governments to “take actions to end this practice”.

It read: “Condoms should never be considered to be evidence of sex work, either in official laws or through unofficial law-enforcement practices, and condoms should never be confiscated from sex workers.”

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald said she was sad to see local policing “being swept along” in a new single force policy of attacking the Capital’s saunas.

She said: “I don’t know what their intention is but the effect of this would completely destroy the safer sex message that has been delivered to the sex industry and wider community over the last 30 years.

“With a line-up of expert and unimpeachable organisations opposed to this it makes the police look isolated and rather amateurish.”

Raids indicate policy change

MORE than 150 officers pounced on seven saunas and 11 related premises earlier this year in a major blitz on Edinburgh’s sex industry.

The surprise raids, which saw three people arrested for drugs offences, prompted claims that the city’s blind-eye policy towards prostitution was being reversed following the move to a single police force.

Police inspections of five saunas found sex swings, scantily-clad women and pornography being streamed into rooms, with Chief Constable Sir Stephen House objecting to the renewal of two licences.

The force has repeatedly insisted there has been no change of policy.

Bad example to follow

In South Korea, where condoms have been used as evidence of sexual activity since 2004, STDs have spiked.

An increase in the number of cases of syphilis, herpes and chlamydia have all been recorded.

The new laws were introduced following the death of 14 prostitutes in a fire within a brothel in 2002.

Prior to the New Prostitution Acts, the Korean government could partially regulate and prevent STD infections by regularly monitoring the sexual health of prostitutes.

However, it is now much harder for health authorities to control the spread because brothels have disappeared and the sex workers cannot be traced.

Fear of a police raid has also weakened the incentive for condom wearing.