Edinburgh council votes to ban strip clubs from Capital despite concerns that activities will be pushed underground
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The decision – by five votes to four – came after passionate arguments in favour of a ban from women’s campaigners and equally passionate pleas from workers in the industry who said their livelihoods were under threat.
New powers allow councils to adopt a licensing regime for “sexual entertainment venues” (SEVs) and set a limit on the number which should be allowed.
Two proposals were before the council’s regulatory committee: to set the limit at four – the current number of venues operating in the city – or opt for a zero limit.
Before councillors discussed what to do, they heard from a succession of deputations including campaigners, venue operators and dancers working in the clubs.
Arguing for the ban, Heather Thomson of the Women’s Support Project said: “SEVs promote the sexual objectification of women and girls and they create the conditions which allow the attitudes and beliefs that lead to domestic abuse, rape and murder to flourish. Sexual violence does not exist in isolation but in a continuum. Not everyone who goes to SEVs will abuse, rape and murder women but we know there is a link between objectifying women and committing more serious acts of violence and abuse.”
Earlier this month Glasgow city council agreed to ban new strip clubs from opening by setting the limit at zero, but three existing premises which were operating before March 24 last year have been told they will be able to continue because “grandfather” rights will apply.
Sasha Rakoff of pressure group Not Buying It said she knew councillors were concerned about the prospect of a legal challenge by clubs, but she told the committee SEV legislation had been brought in in England a decade ago and on the rare occasions High Court action had been taken against councils the clubs had always failed.
Ms Rakoff said: "Even under regulation, sexual contact [in SEVs] is absolutely standard, so is harassment and assault, even rape and gang rape occurs, prostitution outside and in – this is the strip industry. Regulation does not work. The only way to regulate the industry is not having it.”
A representative from the Burke and Hare pub told the committee a ban on strip clubs was “unnecessary” and without justification.
And she said: “If a nil cap is introduced we would fully intend to issue proceedings against the council and I’m also aware that the dancers and the other clubs plan to do that as well.”
She said strip clubs were well-run and had very little trouble; Burke and Hare had licensed security at all times, CCTV everywhere in the club and the women were safe there.
"To close down the strip clubs is not going to eliminate demand for this service, it’s just going to put the girls in a more dangerous and more vulnerable position.”
A sex workers’ union warned it would also go to court over a zero limit.
Danielle from United Voices of the World told the committee: “If a nil cap is adopted the union will immediately seek judicial review based on, at the very least, indirect discrimination, breach of the public sector equality duty and procedural unfairness.”
She said there was "absolutely no credible evidence of a correlation or causation between SEVs and sexual violence” and warned a ban would plunge workers and their dependents into unemployment and poverty.
And Margot from United Sex Workers said despite claims that a ban would protect women, statistics showed cities which had implemented a nil cap, such as Chester, Exeter and Swansea, had experienced a rise rather a decrease in violent crime assault rates after the closure of strip clubs.
Committee convener, SNP councillor Cathy Fullerton said she did not believe a ban would protect women at all and said four was the right limit.
"I believe it is right for the hundreds of workers as evidence presented shows a potential for an increase in violence towards women and girls if SEVs were no longer present in this city. In addition we could bring about abject poverty for those workers who no longer have a place to work.”
Supporting her, Green councillor Susan Rae said: “If we vote to put a nil cap on this we are saying to women they cannot choose what work they do. It is not our place to do that, whether we like it or not. We are facing a massive economic crisis and I’m seriously concerned for their welfare if we take away these licences. They’re going to be forced underground and their safety is going to be put at risk.”
But Labour councillor Joan Griffiths said a ban would contribute to the policy of an “equally safe for all” city.
And backing the zero limit, Tory Cameron Rose said the council was called by the legislation to take a balanced judgement based on the evidence they had before them.
“That judgement may be tested in court in due course, but in taking that judgement I’m not going to be driven by the threat of a court challenge – I don’t want a court challenge, but the threat won’t put me off the correct judgement.
"The clear balance comes down on the legitimate interests of women and society generally over the arguments that we have heard from women who will be economically affected in all sorts of ways and I accept that.”
A council spokesperson said: “It’s important to note that SEVs can still apply for a licence and committee would consider them against the policy agreed.”