Stripper could be forced to drop pay claim after judge refuses request to keep identity secret
A stripper could be forced to drop her pay claim against her former boss after a judge knocked back her request to keep her identity secret over safety fears, ruling she “had willingly undertaken the risk of abuse and violence".
The woman, who worked in Edinburgh’s Burke and Hare while she was a student, was fighting for £1,800 in holiday pay from the bar.
She is now working in a different job and moved away from the venue, but argued her identity becoming public would damage her mental health and put her at risk of violence.
But an employment tribunal judge refused her request for anonymity, after accepting there was evidence that customers had threatened to follow her home from Burke and Hare.
The bar denied this, but Lord Summers concluded “she had willingly undertaken the risk of abuse and violence when she worked as a stripper”. He also stated the woman knew “working as a stripper might harm her career prospects”.
Lord Summers’ comments have sparked an outcry and widespread safety fears for sex workers at risk of exploitation in the industry, which experts say is operating “in the dark ages”.
It comes as councillors are being urged to seize the opportunity of new licensing laws to ban strip clubs and lap dancing bars in Edinburgh.
Politicians and academics have backed concerns from organisations supporting women, saying the ruling sends a dangerous message to industry that workers are “disposable” and they deserve it when they become victim to stigma or violence.
In a written summary, Lord Summers said: “While there was evidence that strippers were stigmatised, that alone did not justify an anonymity order.
“More serious harms such as verbal abuse and the threat of assault would have justified an order, but on the evidence it had not been established that she had a reasonable apprehension of such matters.
“She no longer worked as a stripper and it was not possible to identify circumstances where these serious harms might occur."
United Sex Workers, who provided legal advice to the woman, said strippers should have the same right to holiday pay and benefits as any other job and demanded better safety for workers. The union warned the ruling would stop others coming forward even if they had been exploited.
A spokesperson said: "Respecting sex workers anonymity is, above all else, a safety issue. Making yourself visible as a sex worker not only means risking personal relationships, and being isolated from your community, but putting yourself at risk of being discriminated against in future employment and puts the sex worker at increased risk of violence.
"How can we expect sex workers to fight for their working rights, for their safety at work, if the court demands they put themselves at even greater risk to do so?
"Sex workers deserve access to basic working rights – being able to take their employer to court for not paying them correctly is one of them.
"To require every sex worker with a legal complaint against their employer to reveal their identity will simply stop sex workers from coming forward and allow bosses to put profit before people without impunity.
"How can sex workers feel safe at work when they know they have zero recourse against their employers, because doing so means outing themselves.”
Dr Anastacia Ryan, founder of Umbrella Lane, which supports hundreds of sex workers across Scotland, said: "Stigma fuels perpetrators to see sex workers as easy prey for violence, intimidation and harassment. They assume abuse can be carried out with impunity given sex workers often fear being ‘outed’ when reporting abuse through the channels for justice.
"The judge authorising this stigma fuelled violence by denying anonymity to the complainant and, inferring her victimhood was in essence her own fault, is an extremely dangerous precedent that sends the message out to society that sex workers are not only disposable and undeserving of safe working conditions, but that they deserve it when they become victim to violence.
“The legal framework and associated lack of labour rights in the wider sex industry exacerbates the risks of this stigma translating to horrific acts of violence against predominantly women.
"People have a fundamental human right to be protected by the law, including sex workers. If we care about the risks faced by sex workers, then we must support calls for safe working conditions, labour rights and decriminalisation of an industry operating in the dark ages that leaves women exposed to exploitative managers and misogynistic violence.”
Scottish Liberal Democrats equalities spokesperson Caron Lindsay said: "I am appalled, that in the 21st century, judges are still blaming women for the abuse and violence that men inflict on them.
"Unfortunately, work as a stripper carries a significant stigma, which could have harmed her if her identity had been known.
"This decision is basically a licence for businesses to treat women in these jobs badly because most won't feel able to seek redress if they can't do so with anonymity."
A spokesperson for the Scot-Pep charity said: "Stigma against sex workers is pervasive and is bound up in the criminalisation of sex work. The comment from this judge is yet another appalling example of how societal stigma and criminalisation can cause harm.
"To suggest women ‘willingly undertake the risk of abuse’ is to blame them for the violence they may experience at the hands of others, and is unacceptable from someone who is meant to be impartial.
"Sex workers should not be forced to face these attitudes when seeking legal action. This judge has displayed a complete lack of empathy towards sex workers, which is sadly all too common.”