'This smacks of slut-shaming': Strippers plan protest as 100 face losing their jobs in Edinburgh

Exotic dancers are gearing up to protest over council decision to ban strip clubs – claiming the move is a “vendetta” that ignores safety fears.

By Jolene Campbell
Thursday, 21st April 2022, 4:55 am

Strippers have hit back after councillors voted to impose the ‘nil cap’ policy which will see the triangle of bars in Westport and a fourth club in the city centre close, forcing almost one hundred dancers out work.

It prompted a backlash from the union amid fears the ban will take away their livelihoods and drive women underground putting them at more risk of violence.

The Evening News talked to dancers at two of the bars who said they felt entirely safe in the venues. Club bosses accused the council of ignoring their concerns about the impact of the ban on women’s safety.

Strippers plan to stage another protest in the capital PIC: Chao-ying rao

A protest will be held within the next month with dancers taking part from most or all of the four clubs.

Managers from two of the bars have also confirmed they have sought advice from lawyers, following United Sex Workers union pledge to take the council to court over the de facto ban.

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Dancer Bonnie, a mum-of-three, said she feels safer stripping than out in nightclubs with friends.

"I had my drink spiked in a nightclub a couple of weeks ago. I was shocked. I feel safer here than on a normal night out.

“It has been a bit quiet since the vote was in the papers, it’s as if folk think we’re already shut. We need to let people know we’re very much open for business.

"Demand won't stop if they shut us down. The council have no idea what they’re doing. They’ve just ignored what we told them about safety. It feels like we’re being unfairly targeted for the wrong reasons, it’s not about our safety. It’s a vendetta.

"Events will be held privately. I did some during lockdowns. I wouldn’t carry on. Even if we worked in pairs I still wouldn’t do it. You can’t predict what customers are like in those situations with no cameras or security.”

"In here it’s a controlled environment. Guys can vent, get a bit of titillation. Some just want companionship. What happens if that’s taken away?”

It comes after councils were granted powers to limit SEVs following a 2019 Scottish government paper concluded that any sex work including stripping was tantamount to violence against women.

Opponents say sexual entertainment venues are part of the problem while union and industry warned it could put them in danger at unlicensed, private events held at unregulated venues like hotels and airbnbs.

But the council's regulatory committee voted by five to four to effectively ban the clubs outright by setting a limit of zero on the number of sexual entertainment venues (SEVs) that should be allowed in the city under a new licensing scheme.

Labour councillor Joan Griffiths, who proposed the ban, said the council would “work with women to help them look at their careers and at other employment options."

Some dancers say they will refuse to be forced out and will carry on to stripping – despite the increased risks.

Sarah, 37 said: "There’s no way it’s about our safety. This smacks of slut-shaming. When it suits we are either victims or sluts. The council elections are coming up so some want to make a point.

“I’d say to anyone with a strong opinion to come down and talk to us, see for yourself what we do.”

"We have autonomy. I don’t know any dancers here who are victims or lacking in self esteem. We are nurses, lawyers, property owners, students, fitness instructors. I’m taking

every shift I can get and will consider carrying on privately if we shut.

"We need to see real acceptance of women’s choice what we do with our bodies. This shouldn’t be forced on us. Politicians should instead look to real inequality in many

workplaces – like the pay gap.”

It’s argued by the Equally Safe Edinburgh Committee that lap-dancing clubs suggest "the objectification of women is culturally acceptable". Furthermore, they say SEVs are

discriminatory towards women amid claims they feel ‘unwelcome’ or unsafe in their vicinity.

The manager at the Burke and Hare, a former stripper, dismissed the claims. Jade said: “All our bar staff are women and we get women coming in too. We get customers from across society; single guys, business men, stag and hen groups. The dancers are not forced to be here. Police have spoken in our favour and local residents are supportive. These are regulated venues with CCTV outside and in.”

“This decision is not based in reality. One group made some serious accusations about rapes and prostitution. It’s insulting and defamatory. They are talking about our real lives here – not some gangster film. There’s no evidence that there’s a correlation between these venues and violence against women.”

“If they want to put women’s safety first they won’t close us down and force them into dangerous, unregulated situations. There is sadly a stigma and it’s shocking for us that still hasn’t gone away. But the problem here is misconception. The councillors who have been to visit voted to allow us to remain open. That says it all. It’s unfair that folk who haven’t set foot in the place can hold their own personal views against us.”

A City of Edinburgh Council spokesperson, said: “The Regulatory Committee agreed to adopt the licensing system for Sexual Entertainment Venues (SEVs) from 1 April 2023. It approved the policy and condition of licence for these venues and set the appropriate number of venues in the city at zero. It’s important to note that SEVs can still apply for a licence and committee would consider them against the policy agreed today.”