Leave the website

Response from Zero Tolerance to the consultation 'Further Options for Alcohol Licensing'

March 2013

Zero Tolerance is a small national charity working to end men’s violence against women (VAW) in all its forms. We promote a primary prevention approach, believing that changing societal attitudes, values and structures is the key to ending gender-based violence. We also believe that pervasive and continuing gender inequality in our society creates a culture in which violence against women is permissible and tolerated and that this must change. More information about our work can be found on our website, www.zerotolerance.org.uk

Summary of our position

We welcome this opportunity to comment on the alcohol licensing regime as we have significant concerns about the regime as it currently operates. These are set out in detail below, however in sum they concern the way in which the current alcohol licensing regime provides a means for providing completely unregulated ‘adult entertainment’ which amounts to sexual exploitation and which significantly undermines efforts elsewhere to promote equality and challenge VAW.

Our comments on previous alcohol consultations

We have long been of the view that both the alcohol licensing regime (in terms of the 2005 Act and local policies stemming from it) and alcohol policy more broadly do not take sufficient account of the links between alcohol consumption and gender-based violence. We have struggled to have our views on this matter taken into account in recent years, perhaps because the issues we have raised are seen as ancillary to the main problem of alcohol misuse, or are too challenging and difficult.

In our response to a Scottish Government consultation in September 2008 (“Changing Scotland's relationship with alcohol: a discussion paper on our strategic approach”) we raised concerns about a number of issues; most pertinent to this current consultation, we raised concerns about masculine drinking culture and its links with sexual violence.

In that consultation response we said: “Often, alcohol consumption amongst groups of men accompanies and acts as a focal point for collective chauvinistic attitudes and behaviour. This includes sexual harassment of women on the street and within bars and clubs, and a pack mentality that can envisage a night of drinking cumulating in sex or indeed commercial sexual activity such as attending a lap-dancing club…

We also look to the Government to challenge the way in which drinking alcohol is coupled with the easy availability of commercial sex for consumption, as normalised activities for many men on a night out in Scotland. These are not harmless activities, which are ‘just a bit of fun’, as they are often characterised. The 2004 research report, “Profitable Exploits: Lap dancing in the UK” (Julie Bindel, Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, London Metropolitan University, Aug 2004) found that activities within lap-dancing clubs can be seen as detrimental to gender equality. There is strong evidence that dancers can suffer humiliation and sexual harassment on a regular basis, from customers and staff/management.

The research further reported that although these are often licensed as ‘entertainment’ venues, the buying and selling of sexual services does occur in some lap dance clubs. The working conditions and terms of employment of lap dancers are inadequate and problematic, especially as many dancers begin working in lap dance clubs through lack of real choice. Notably, the survey found that dancers are encouraged by management to drink alcohol on site, which would be condemned in any other workplace, and shows again how these establishments are harmful and require much closer consideration from the Government than has been the case until now. Any comprehensive alcohol strategy will need to address the links between the exploitation of women and the misuse of alcohol in society.”

We were disappointed that there was no real engagement with these issues in the resultant work.  

In June 2012, we responded to the “Shifting the Culture” consultation initiated by Dr Richard Simpson MSP and Graeme Pearson MSP and again made the point that “it is…important to recognise the strong links between gender based violence and alcohol, for example the use of alcohol in ‘date rapes’; the fact that experiencing VAW such as rape or domestic abuse can create alcohol dependency, as a coping mechanism; and the links between the sex industry and alcohol consumption. Scotland’s alcohol culture definitely contributes to its sexist violence culture even if there is not a simple causal link.”

As we understand it no member’s bill has resulted from this consultation.

So, we welcome the chance to yet again raise our concerns, and hope that this time it may lead to some policy and legal change, or at the very least to further discussions about how we unpick the complex issues around gender-based violence and alcohol consumption in Scotland.

Key issues

Our key interest in this consultation is proposal 11, which is about the uncertainties arising from the Brightcrew decision. However, we also have an interest in a number of other aspects. We will comment further on each aspect below, but first we wish to set out our general concerns.

Our concerns about the current licensing regime

The alcohol licensing regime in Scotland is not fit for purpose because:

1. ‘Adult entertainment’ is not actually regulated

There has been a prolific expansion in the number of premises offering so-called ‘adult entertainment’ in Scotland in recent years. This ‘entertainment’ takes the form of women stripping, pole-dancing and lap-dancing for men’s enjoyment; simulating highly sexualised acts, often fully nude, for money, in bars and clubs. 

Premises which offer this kind of ‘entertainment’ do so under the auspices of the alcohol licensing regime under the 2005 Act, in so far as they have a license to run a pub/bar which also offers lap-dancing/stripping etc. – the alcohol license for this kind of premises generally has some kind of ‘policy on dance entertainment’ appended.

However, we have taken legal opinion on this matter and it is clear that any such policy is “little more than a statement of intent or suggested code of conduct”; therefore “conditions specifically relating to the adult entertainment provided are effectively unenforceable following Brightcrew” (source: Opinion of Counsel A Hajducki QC, March 2013).

We know that there are multiple breaches of compliance in Edinburgh, for example clubs offering fully nude dances and private booths, when both are expressly forbidden in the City of Edinburgh Council policy on dance entertainment, and that the council has no real way to impose these conditions, giving club owners impunity to offer services which the Licensing Board may explicitly wish to be prevented.

The ‘Brightcrew’ ruling (where Glasgow Licensing Board was held to have acted unlawfully for seeking to refuse a license for a lap-dancing club based on the licensing objectives around public health & protecting children) means that the law around alcohol licensing is being interpreted in the narrowest sense, whereby only aspects of the provision that directly relate to alcohol consumption are affected.

2. Some parts of the sex industry which operate under the alcohol licensing regime are harmful and problematic

Lap-dancing and strip clubs are objectionable for multiple reasons.

2.1 They are extremely poor employers – lap-dancing clubs routinely:

  • ask women to pay to appear/dance meaning that they can be out of pocket if they don’t have enough customers to cover their appearance fee on a given night
  • use women who are self-employed dancers as opposed to employees, so they have limited protection, job security and rights
  • fine dancers for arbitrary breaches of rules
  • have high staff turnover because men demand new ‘products’ to look at and engage with and do not wish to see the same girls and women repeatedly
  • encourage or tolerate drinking from the dancers, some of whom develop alcohol dependency problems
  • make the women who work there feel unsafe and have long-term impacts on their physical and psychological well-being.

For testimony on the experience of working in these kinds of clubs and the harms it creates see http://www.object.org.uk/lapdancing-testimonies - selected excerpts from some of these testimonies are below:

“The industry by its very nature, is highly discriminatory and ageist, it is a certain fact that men want to see nubile young women naked, not 40 year old women, so the very core of the industry is extremely derogatory, and degrading to women of all ages” (Alexandra, former lap-dancer)

“You have a code of conduct but it’s not adhered to too much. It’s just to placate the local authorities. We weren’t even encouraged to read it. You just sign it quickly. I was worried about signing it – but it became apparent it was all nonsense.” (Sarah, former lap-dancer)

“I increasingly, rather than getting dances, was making customers buy me a drink instead, and on more nights that I am too ashamed to admit would be so drunk that I would lose my dancing money, fight with other girls and customers and not remember getting back home. It was hell, a hell that I had chosen to place myself in.” (Liz, former lap-dancer)

As suggested in Alexandra’s testimony, these venues do not generate work opportunities for women after a certain age or who do not fit a very narrow culturally-relative interpretation of physical attractiveness; and they do not create jobs where there is any kind of advancement or career structure possible.

Lap-dancing clubs also routinely employ women who are not sober, as many of the women feel they need to misuse alcohol to survive the experience of working there – see Liz above and also the testimony of Jennifer Danns:

“In the two years Jennifer Hayashi Danns worked as a lap-dancer, she never met a woman who danced sober. Some took cocaine, the rest drank – whether they drove to work or not. At her worst point, Danns would have a bottle of wine before work, half a bottle while getting ready, and drink steadily through her shift. How else, she asks, could she walk up to strangers and ask if they wanted her to take her clothes off?”

Would any other employer who encouraged the drinking of alcohol as part of a job be tolerated and supported by the licensing regime?

2.2 They make the city feel unsafe for women and girls and are unpleasant to walk past, not least because of the overt and highly sexualised signage outside of the venues, which usually depicts women naked or semi-naked and in sexualised positions; they are also intimidating if groups of men are entering or leaving the premises when women walk past. We have lots of anecdotal evidence of women avoiding Lothian Road and West Port in Edinburgh for example, so as to avoid walking past these venues, especially at night.

2.3 They offer a form of entertainment that is highly degrading to women – and reduces them to objects and body parts to be looked at and sexually desired and exploited – this is regardless of whether some individual women claim empowerment from the activity. The existence of these clubs is a huge structural barrier to gender equality.

In a more equal society one can perhaps imagine sexualised entertainment being acceptable but in our current society, where women’s access to wealth, power and opportunity is radically different from men’s, a regime which allows a man to pay for a woman to gyrate in his lap while naked or only wearing the skimpiest of underwear is steeped in inequality, male privilege, male dominance and female subordination and abuse of power imbalances – it is not congruent with equality between the sexes.

2.4 These venues also exploit men
It should also be noted that although women are the primary victims of a regime which objectifies and commodifies them, men too are hugely exploited by this industry – the clubs are very tactical about parting men from their money, and the dancers are skilled in knowing how to make men pay more than they had intended. 

“The private one on one dance was everyone’s bread and butter and the trick was to try and get them to stay in there as long as possible and have multiple dances at £10 each. The manipulative trick to this was to remain topless, lean over and whisper in their ear, “Would you like me to carry on?” to which any red blooded man would pant “yes!” whether they could afford to or not.” (Liz - http://www.object.org.uk/files/Testimony_Liz.pdf)

This industry preys on men’s willingness to be seen as a ‘lad’ and to conform to stereotypes about men’s desire to exploit women sexually and to value women primarily for their appearance.

3. The SG appears to have a ‘blind spot’ when it comes to linking alcohol, gender and VAW

As mentioned above, we have struggled to have links between alcohol and gender-based violence recognised. The last Scottish Government strategy on alcohol (‘Changing Scotland's Relationship with Alcohol: A Framework for Action’) didn’t mention VAW despite the intrinsic link between it and alcohol. It didn’t mention the link with commercial sexual exploitation even though it is impossible to imagine a group of men on a night out such a ‘stag party’ or a corporate team night out going a strip club that wasn’t licensed to serve alcohol – alcohol consumption is part of the whole experience of visiting these premises, associated as it is with the lowering of sexual inhibitions and with making financially impulsive decisions.

Our whole culture links alcohol with sex and with sexual availability of women yet there is rarely public dialogue about this fact; and policy level discussions about alcohol don’t often take this into account. This needs to change. This does not mean that alcohol misuse can be blamed for forms of VAW such as domestic or sexual violence, but that bigger questions about what our alcohol culture says about women and what our licensed premises offer should be addressed.

Our specific responses to the questions posed in the consultation

We wish to make comment only on selected aspects of the consultation – namely

Proposal 5 – Fit and Proper
We do believe that the legislation should be amended so that Boards are able to consider whether an applicant is a ‘fit and proper’ person, and that the definition of ‘fit and proper’ should incorporate whether or not a person has any convictions for illegal behaviour. This should include a reasonable assessment of whether the criminal conviction is for an offence which may put the public at risk (e.g. assault, sexual assault) or a more victimless crime e.g. a public order offence gained in protesting. But the public do have the right to be protected from licensees who have serious criminal convictions.

Proposal 6 - Promotion of the licensing objectives
As we see them the licensing objectives at present are fairly meaningless.

It seems ludicrous for a licensing Board to have to pay heed to the need to protect children from harm and to promote public health in terms of alcohol consumption and yet be allowed to license practices in alcohol-providing venues which are deleterious to women’s health and to wellbeing, and to children’s ability to grow up in an equal society where girls are not expected to value themselves purely on the basis of appearance and sexual desirability and boys are not expected to view females in that way but as equal partners worthy of respect and dignity. 

We would therefore not be convinced that a statutory obligation to promote the licensing objectives as currently framed would result in any significant change to our unhealthy relationship with alcohol or to the unhealthy and dangerous aspects of our society which go along with alcohol consumption.

VAW is a public health issue but Brightcrew does not allow this to be taken into account, as far as we understand it.

Likewise for Proposal 7 and Proposal 8 – we are not sure this would actually be meaningful

Proposal 11 - Brightcrew
This is our key interest in this consultation. In answer to the questions posed:

Q23- Would expanding the scope of the Act from 'sale' to 'sale and supply' address the uncertainties created by Brightcrew?

We suggest that this would not address the uncertainties.

Q24 – Would placing a general duty on Boards to 'promote' rather than 'have regard' to the licensing conditions address the uncertainties created by Brightcrew?

No – because the inherent uncertainty is around whether or not it is only alcohol consumption that is being regulated or all of the activities provided in a licensed premises.

Q25 – Would making clear that the Act allows regulation of the sale of alcohol or other activities in the licensed premises within licensed hours address the uncertainties created by Brightcrew?

Maybe, if ‘other activities’ could be defined - but would that be the best means for addressing this issue? How wide would the scope be? We think another approach may be needed.

Q26 – Would you suggest another approach to resolve the uncertainties arising from Brightcrew?

Yes – we need a new licensing regime as per the one in England which allows a ‘nil premises’ policy and substantial community consultation – or perhaps even to be bold enough to take a new approach which says these places have had their day and need to be closed down. This would be a radical move but instead of asking why not have them, we suggest Ministers and officials try asking WHY have them? What useful purpose do they serve, whose needs do they meet? It is hard to evidence any real societal value especially when balanced against the well evidenced harms.

Proposal 12 – Members’ clubs
Our concern about this aspect would be is if lap-dancing clubs tried to use the members’ club route to avoid a more stringent licensing regime, but we are not clear if this is a real risk.

Proposal 14 – National Policy Statement
Yes – a national policy statement could prevent some of the tension between national policy on VAW (e.g. “Safer Lives Changed Lives”) and local implementation (e.g. tolerance of the sex industry in some of our towns and cities) IF it made clear what was acceptable, and IF it goes beyond purely alcohol consumption and also covers the activities offered in some alcohol licensed premises, such as dance ‘entertainment’.

Proposals 17 and 18 - Overprovision
We would like to ask the Scottish Government to consider the issue of overprovision of a certain type of entertainment/venue. For example, in the west end of Edinburgh (Lothian Road and West Port) there are 6 lap-dancing venues with a square mile, which creates a no-go area for women, especially at night. We think this is completely unacceptable.

We agree that the locality should be the whole Board area, to allow a whole population approach.

Proposal 21 – Timing of Board training
We would strongly caution AGAINST authorising board clerks to grant new licenses under delegated authority. In Edinburgh we have a situation with licensing of saunas (which it is common knowledge are actually brothels) whereby officials are complicit with illegal activity and where the scheme of delegation has allowed these saunas to secure license renewals without proper scrutiny.  We have no confidence that a delegation scheme for premises with an alcohol license offering ‘adult entertainment’ would allow for sufficient scrutiny and community consultation.

Q33. Should Board meetings be held in public, in their entirety?
Yes. Communities should have the right to hear the reasoning of their local Board in deciding what premises are appropriate for their area.

Any other suggestions

We strongly urge the Scottish Government to look at new ways of dealing with this matter as the 2005 Act is clearly not the right vehicle for licensing ‘adult entertainment’ if the government desires any meaningful regulation of the activity. This opens up a significant policy decision for the government: whether to seek news ways to regulate this form of ‘entertainment’ or to say it is no longer a legitimate form of business practice and to seek to prevent it.

The Scottish Government and COSLA are co-signatories to a statement on VAW called ‘Safer Lives: Changed Lives’ which defines Commercial Sexual Exploitation as a form of VAW and which explores its harmfulness:

“Activities such as pornography, prostitution, stripping, lap dancing, pole dancing and table dancing are forms of commercial sexual exploitation. These activities have been shown to be harmful for the individual women involved and have a negative impact on the position of all women through the objectification of women’s bodies. This happens irrespective of whether individual women claim success or empowerment from the activity. It is essential to separate sexual activity from exploitative sexual activity.  A sexual activity becomes sexual exploitation if it breaches a person’s human right to dignity, equality, respect and physical and mental wellbeing. It becomes commercial sexual exploitation when another person, or group of people, achieves financial gain or advancement through the activity.”

(http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/274212/0082013.pdf Pages 7/8)

It is difficult to reconcile how an activity that is harmful for the individual women involved and which has a negative impact on the position of all women through the objectification of women’s bodies can be regulated without legitimatising it. The bigger question is should this activity be prevented or disrupted or should demand for it be challenged?

Countries where an abolitionist approach has been taken include Iceland and Sweden. These are countries, which, by no coincidence, have a strong record on promoting gender equality. Inn Iceland stripping of any sort is illegal; and Sweden only has two strip-clubs in the whole country.

Scotland has long been admired for its bold and pioneering approach to ending and tackling VAW and is streets ahead of many other countries in its service provision and its prevention work. This was recently reconfirmed by Scottish delegates to CSW 57 (the UN Convention on the Status of Women’s 57th meeting) who were constantly told by delegates from around the world that Scotland is a world leader in ending VAW. To properly address the ways in which the Scottish alcohol licensing regime has enabled and facilitated commercial sexual exploitation, a harmful and widely tolerated form of VAW, would be a logical next step and I urge the Scottish Government to grasp this opportunity.

Further information

For more information on this response, please contact:
Jenny Kemp
Zero Tolerance
152 Morrison Street

E: Jenny.Kemp@zerotolerance.org.uk
T: 0131 248 2408

NB: This submission is made on behalf of the organisation and may be published.




Latest News

Under Pressure Train the Trainer Programme: 2018 sessions

MoreJuly 2, 2018

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - free training tool

MoreJune 11, 2018

Latest Blog

Zero Tolerance 1992 Campaign: Political and Media Response

MoreJune 29, 2018

Spotlight on the media: why are we still blaming the victim?

MoreMay 4, 2018