We strongly recommend that you explicitly include ‘the promotion of gender equality’ as a specific objective for Sex Establishment licensing in your licensing policy.
The Gender Equality Duty 2007 legally requires local authorities to promote equality between women and men in all that they do. The Gender Equality Duty is particularly relevant in relation to the licensing of sex establishments because of the gendered nature of sex establishments like lap dancing clubs, and because of the negative impact that lap dancing clubs have on efforts to promote equality between women and men. The negative implications of lap dancing clubs on women are outlined below:
Lap dancing clubs normalise the sexual objectification of women in contradiction to efforts to promote equality between women and men.
The links between objectification, discrimination and violence against women are recognised at the international level by the legally binding United Nations Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which has repeatedly called on states – including the British Government - to take action against the objectification of women. Similarly the UK-based End Violence Against Women coalition has called on the UK Government to tackle the sexualisation of women and girls because it provides a ‘conducive context’ for violence against women.
Lap dancing clubs promote ‘sex-object’ culture – the mainstreaming of the sex and porn industries.
The growth of lap dancing clubs has fed into what OBJECT terms ‘sex-object’ culture – the mainstreaming of the sex and porn industries and the ever increasing sexual objectification of women and girls. With lax licensing laws leading to the number of lap dancing clubs doubling over the last five years, and a PR makeover branding lap dancing as glamorous and ‘harmless fun’, we have found ourselves in a situation in which major retailers sell pole dancing kits along with pink frilly garters and paper money in their ‘toys and games section’, and leisure centres offer pole dancing lessons to girls as young as twelve. This has led to 25% of teenage girls seeing being a lap dancer as their ideal profession.
Lap dancing clubs are a part of the sex industry and as such are linked with wider systems of prostitution
Research shows that the structural conditions of lap dancing clubs, where women compete with one another for private dances, lead to some dancers offering sexual services to survive financially , a climate in which, according to an ex-lap dancer: ‘No touching, not exposing your genitals, not allowing men to touch you is the exception rather than the rule’
Even if a club enforces a no touching rule and there is no sexual contact between dancer and customer, research further shows that strip clubs increase demand for nearby prostitution services. This places lap dancing on a continuum of commercial sexual activity, irrespective of whether this sexual exchange occurs within the club itself.
Lap dancing clubs have a negative impact on women’s safety in the local vicinity
Research undertaken in the London Borough of Camden found a fifty percent increase in sexual assaults in the borough after the rapid expansion of lap dancing clubs. Personal testimony from women who have written to OBJECT reinforces the idea of a link between the proliferation of lap dancing clubs and increased levels of sexual harassment for women in the vicinity:
‘On separate occasions, I have had men say to me “How much for a dance love? I’ll give you £20 to get yours out,”... they seem to always think that because they can pay to degrade and abuse women inside the club that I am no different’
The UK Royal Institute of Town Planning has further drawn attention to concerns regarding the impact of lap dancing clubs on women in the local areas: ‘Evidence shows that in certain locations, lap dancing and exotic dancing clubs make women feel threatened or uncomfortable’
Lap dancing clubs have a negative impact on women’s safety in wider society
Lap dancing clubs normalise the representation of women as being always sexually available and this is worrying in light of widespread public opinion that women are in some way responsible for sexual assaults perpetrated against them. The links between the expansion of lap dancing clubs and an increase in the levels of sexual violence have been raised by organisations who work with victims and perpetrators of gender-based violence. For example, as Chair of Rape Crisis Nicole Westmarland reported that lap dancing clubs ‘both support and are a consequence of sexual violence in society’.
This view is reiterated by the Director of the White Ribbon Campaign, an organisation which works with men to end violence against women: ‘Any expansion of lap dancing clubs feeds an increase in the lack of respect for women. We work for an age when all men understand the implications of their support for these clubs, and they all choose not to attend them’
Furthermore, in response to research it commissioned into the impact of lap dancing clubs on the city, Glasgow City Council stated:
“Images of women and ‘entertainment’ which demean and degrade women portraying them as sexual objects plays a part in “normalising” sexual violence and contributes to male abuse of women being acceptable, tolerated, condoned and excused. Such entertainment runs counter to explicit commitments by a range of private, public and voluntary agencies to promoting women’s equality.”
In relation to police rape statistics in Newquay, at the recent Divas hearing, the lap-dancing club’s management made spurious claims that the lap-dancing clubs are keeping rape statistics down. As Philip Kolvin QC the barrister acting for Cornwall Council portrayed, statistics can be interpreted in numerous ways. His interpretation of the statistics produced were, that in the first 5 years of the millennium in Newquay there were 34 rapes; in the second 5 years of the millennium there were 86 rapes. This, Philip Kolvin stated was a 250% increase and was a ‘shameful record for Newquay.’ Cornwall has the one of the lowest conviction rates in the county for rape and stands at just 5.2%.
CFN call on the council to adopt a nil policy in relation to SEVs for the reasons given above. However, if you do not adopt a nil policy and SEVs are to be granted and/or renewed, we would very much appreciate being consulted regarding conditions. The conditions currently in the draft policy we believe will be subject to legal challenge.
We further request that you monitor the impact of the ‘frequency exemption’ which was included within the SEV licensing regime.