SNP refuses bid to ban under-18s working in strip clubs

Under-18s will still be allowed to work in strip bars. Picture: Justin Spittle

Under-18s will still be allowed to work in strip bars. Picture: Justin Spittle

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TEENAGE girls employed as office staff or cleaners in strip clubs could be coerced into becoming performers and risk being propositioned for sex, campaigners have warned.

The Scottish Government has refused to ban under-18s from working in sexual entertainment venues, sparking fears of a “groomers charter”.

Labour MSP Cara Hilton proposed the amendment to the Air Weapons and Licensing Bill currently going through the Scottish Parliament.

She told the parliament’s local government committee: “As the Bill stands, under-18s would be able to work in such venues when sexual entertainment was not taking place. The Zero Tolerance Trust has argued that would create a groomers charter.

“Some men who attend such venues seek to buy sex there and there is no guarantee they will restrict their inquiries to performers.”

Justice Minister Michael Matheson told the committee he had sympathy with the objective of offering better protection to young people, but he said the proposed ban could mean employment opportunities for young people were “unreasonably restricted”.

He said: “I would not be comfortable in saying that a 17-year-old cleaner could not be employed, or a plumber’s apprentice could not enter to repair a leak when sexual entertainment was not taking place.”

When the amendment was put to the vote at the committee, there was a 3-3 tie and the convener, SNP MSP Kevin Stewart, used his casting vote to reject the ban.

Ms Hilton said she was “extremely disappointed” that SNP MSPs opposed the measure. She said: “There is a real risk that this Bill could now encourage a slippery slope, allowing sexual entertainment venues to employ teenage girls to work as cleaners or in admin roles and then persuading or subtly coercing them to become performers when they reach 18.

“I don’t believe that any child or young person under 18 should be allowed to work in or attend sexual entertainment venues – it’s simply not a safe or healthy working environment for children. The Scottish Government’s own Violence Against Women strategy recognises the very real links between the commercial exploitation and objectification of women and the status of women in society.”

Jenny Kemp, co-director of Edinburgh-based anti-violence charity Zero Tolerance, said the lack of a ban on under-18s working in the venues left the door open to serious exploitation.

She said: “It opens up an opportunity to press young people into this industry by the back door – employing them in an office or cleaning role, but using that as an opportunity to groom them for a performing role.”

She said a ban would put sex entertainment venues on the same footing as sex shops, which are already prohibited from employing under-18s.

Lothian Tory MSP Cameron Buchanan said he strongly supported a ban.

“No-one under 18 should be anywhere near these places,” he said. “Young girls are very impressionable. Even when the clubs are not open, there will be a lot of salacious images and suggestive poses. They can see what’s happening – it’s not Legoland.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com