Background

When Councils license lap dancing they allow full nudity and exposed genitals. There is not supposed to be any actual contact (that would be prostitution). But a performer can be within a hair’s breadth of touching a punter. So a standard dance means a young woman, stripped naked and grinding on a man’s crotch (or as close to it as darned it).

A man can buy this for £20 or less (£10 is becoming the standard price, sometimes just £5 for ‘2-for-1 specials’).

So a standard lap dance is basically foreplay and quite literally only a hair’s breadth removed from prostitution.

On top of this, lap dancers are ‘self employed’ – they to pay to work in clubs, must buy expensive ‘house clothes’, give a portion of earnings back to the club and are fined, frequently. Clubs also always have far too high a ratio of performers to punters – making competition to even get your £20 (of £10 or £5) for a lap dance intense.

So, as for ‘strippers being loaded’ well, you ain’t gonna get it with a standard lap dance. That is why there probably isn’t a club in the country where there is’t any sexual contact – including grinding on punters laps, rubbing their genitals and dancers touching themselves intimately. And the only way to really make good money is to provide the hand jobs and blow jobs that drunk, highly sexually aroused men expect in ‘VIP’ areas and private booths.

Harm for Women in Clubs

Near-sexual contact is already a legitimate, standard lap dance. Providing that night-in-night-out is in itself harmful. Of course, lap dancer have to do a lot more as actual sexual contact is the norm across the industry. The harm of this is even more apparent as a great many women in the industry are already vulnerable and have already experienced abuse. Research indicates that 1/3 lap dancers are in abusive relationship. Every woman who has left the industry has told us that the overwhelming majority of dancers had come from abusive backgrounds. Many of the leading advocates of the industry are quite open about being victims of sexual abuse and even child sexual abuse.

Women who have left the industry also talk about how harmful it is to never be able to be yourself – a lot of time is spent talking to punters, ‘where you have to act dumb and massage his echo’ .. playing the ‘ideal girlfriend’. Yet at the same time, he then pays you to strip naked, spread your legs and provide foreplay in public. ‘The whole psychology of it is just wierd’.

‘Rule Breaching’

Given that a standard lap dance is essentially foreplay and the financial stranglehold clubs have on performers, it’s hardly surprising  that actual sexual contact or sex acts is the norm. So is constant harassment and propositioning for sex. Drugs, drug dealing, serious physical and sexual assault. Underage dancers and trafficking is also rife. Pimps source dancers inside clubs –  after all they are little more than a grooming ground for vulnerable young women into prostitution. And tout outside for drunk, sexually aroused punters to lead them to the nearest brothel.

The reality of the industry has been exposed by countless testimonies from women who have left, research studies, dozens of press reports and sometimes even clubs’ own CCTV as well as Police Logs, Licensing Hearings and Court Hearings.

However, the fact that a standard lap dance may quite lawfully involve near sexual contact makes it almost impossible to tell from club’s CCTV or even on-site inspections whether or not actual (unlawful) sexual contact is happening and ‘rules’ (such as they are) are being breached.

This is not helped by the fact that CCTV always has numerous ‘blind spots’ (they are often pointed out to lap dancers by management). Or that clubs always seem to know when Council ‘secret inspections’ are taking place. Yet this is the only genuine, impartial evidence Councils really have that they are not licensing de facto brothels. ‘Codes of Conduct’ or statements of compliance from club workers (whether bouncers, management, DJs or lap dancers) clearly are not impartial and have been shown to be reliable time and time again.

We argue that it is an industry that is impossible to regulate or monitor. Councils are simply legitimising hubs of exploitation that they have absolutely no control over.

Harm to Women Outside Clubs

Given what is happening, entirely legitimately inside clubs, it hardly bodes well for when drunk, highly aroused men spill out into the streets. Not surprisingly, countless women have reported being – and feeling- threatened and harassed outside the local strip club. Clubs can quite literally create ‘No Go Zones‘   –  an illegal breach of women’s right to free movement.

This has even meant women having to give up their place of work if near a strip club. And LBGT and other groups having to stop holding events in venues anywhere near the local strip club because of the wholesale harassment experienced.

Harm in Wider Society

And the industry promotes totally unacceptable ‘President Club’ style attitudes in wider society. International treaties alongside countless studies have recognised for years that objectification and all branches of the porn and sex trade contribute to harmful attitudes. The industry is quite literally a grooming ground for ‘Harvey Weinsteins’ – telling men they have absolute rights and sexual entitlement to young women.  It is a nonsense to be *shocked* by The President’s Club in a society that legitimises and glorifies strip clubs – where men buy foreplay (and very often a great deal more) and where harassment is quite literally ‘part of the job description’ .

How Are Strip Clubs Licensed?

In 2005, the strip industry became totally de-regulated and clubs were licensed like cafes. Councils could do nothing to stop them setting up and, of course, the industry mushroomed uncontrollably.  But a high profile campaign by pressure group Object and The Fawcett Society led to a change in the law.

From 2011, new legislation was introduced which meant that Councils could license clubs as ‘Sexual Entertainment Venues’ (or SEVs). Most adopted this licensing. This gave Councils sweeping powers to refuse to license new clubs, to refuse to relicense existing clubs (with licenses having to be renewed annually) and meant they could set a policy that no clubs should be licensed at all.

But, whether through apathy, ignorance, bias or fear of the hugely powerful strip trade, many Councils are not properly enforcing their licensing rights or responsibilities. They are still not considering the impact on women’s safety, let alone equality, and continue to license and re-license strip clubs, even in blatantly inappropriate locations or after extensive evidence of abuse and exploitation within and outside the clubs they license.

Strip Clubs = Anti-Equalities Law

A ground breaking precedent has now been set with not one but two successful legal challenges against Sheffield City Council. This highlights how all Councils are likely to be breaching equality law when licensing the strip industry.

Legally, Councils must try to eliminate harassment, discrimination and victimisation in all of its policies and licensing decisions. Yet this is the very definition of lap dancing and the culture it creates – with all attempts to regulate to prevent this proving futile. It is actually inconceivable that a Council can license the strip industry and not be in breach of equality law.

Strip Industry Slammed

In 2018, the Women and Equalities Committee report on Sexual Harassment  slammed the strip industry and called for clubs to be shut where there is any evidence of harm (well, there’s already plenty of that).

What Do We Want?

    •  The reality and harm of lap dancing understood and widely recognised
    •  Clubs shut and Councils creating a ‘zero policy’ towards the industry
    • Club owners prosecuted, where appropriate, and assets seized
  •  Women supported out of the industry with meaningful exit plans – including alternative work

What are We Doing?

    • We are working with local groups, including many branches of the local Women’s Equality Party, to help raise concerns to individual Councils
    • We are working  with women from the industry to raise awareness and devise exit plans
    • We are lobbying the Home Office to issue new directives to Councils over the reality of the industry and Councils’ rights and duties under licensing and equality law 

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