Sex work is rarely, if ever, a healthy career choice for a woman - Susan Dalgety
Call me old fashioned, but there is nothing sexy about strip clubs. Drunk men jostling with each other for the privilege of a private dance with their favourite lap dancer is more sleazy than sensual.
And I don’t prescribe to the liberal feminist view that sex work is real work and should be treated the same as social care or retail. Sex work is exploitative, encouraging men to abuse the most vulnerable women in exchange for a few grubby pounds. For every seasoned stripper who argues that her job is simply “sexual entertainment”, there is a young woman being viciously beaten by her pimp for failing to earn enough.
So, I am disappointed, though perhaps not surprised, that a trade union representing strippers, United Sex Workers, is trying to raise £20,000 for a judicial review of Edinburgh City council's decision to reduce the number of strip clubs operating in the city to zero.
Earlier this year, the council’s regulatory committee voted five votes to four for a ‘nil-cap’ on sex venues in the Capital, effectively closing Edinburgh’s four strip clubs from next April.
Danielle Worden, a legal caseworker who is working on the judicial review campaign said earlier this week that it was essential to overturn the ban to, “save the jobs of hundreds of workers in Edinburgh…also to send a clear message to other councils that ‘nil-caps’ are unlawful.’”
Back in the 1990s, when I was a naïve young councillor, I too argued that sex work was real work. As a member of the licensing committee, I voted to give licences to the city’s saunas, knowing full well that they were brothels. Far better, I thought then, that women forced to sell their bodies were able to ply their trade from the relative comfort of a tenement in Lothian Road than in the back of someone’s car.
Lothian and Borders Police agreed, because whenever a sauna’s licence came up for renewal, the police report would be positive. “No problems here,” an officer would tell councillors as we rubber-stamped another brothel.
But of course, saunas didn’t stop street prostitution, nor the trafficking of young women from Eastern Europe and beyond. It didn’t stop young women selling their bodies to strangers several times a day. All our naivety achieved was to give women like me the illusion of being progressive and Edinburgh a reputation for being liberal.
As I matured, I realised that sex work is rarely, if ever, a healthy career choice for a woman. It reduces us to nothing more a piece of meat, to be abused for cash. It is quite simply an extreme form of violence against women. I am now firmly in favour of the Nordic Model which makes buying people for sex a criminal offence, so reducing demand.
Lap-dancers will argue that they are not selling sex, merely providing sexual entertainment, but whether they agree or not, they are being exploited by men. Strip clubs are part of a sexually abusive continuum that starts with erotic dancing and ends with trafficked teenage girls giving oral sex to middle-aged drunks for fear of their life.
Edinburgh city councillors made the right decision in March. Let’s hope Scotland’s courts don’t force them to change their mind.