Today the City of Edinburgh Council’s Regulatory Committee decided to stop licensing saunas and massage parlours, by withdrawing these as a category from its Public Entertainment Licensing Resolution. The Committee paper relating to this can be found here.
This follows a consultation exercise conducted in winter 2013, and a long period of debate and discussion about the sustainability and acceptability of this long-standing policy of, essentially, turning a blind eye to brothels operating in the city. There are strong advocates for this so-called ‘harm reduction’ approach and also strong opponents of it, including Zero Tolerance. We’ve opposed this policy in recent years not least because we see it as increasing, and embedding harm, and sanctioning violence against women - not reducing it. We agree with the Council that its practice of licensing saunas and massage parlours was not achieving its aim of harm reduction. (This is stated in the committee paper).
But more fundamentally, we’ve never thought of prostitution as a legitimate form of ‘public entertainment’, like the coffee shops, sunbed parlours or gigs that the licensing regime regulates. Prostitution is fundamentally different to the other forms of ‘entertainment’ controlled by the council.
It’s a practice that thrives on exploitation and on women’s inequality, with saunas being one of the most visible manifestations of women’s lack of money and power relative to men. It’s sad that people think because men have always exploited women that this ‘oldest oppression’ is actually a profession – for most women who sell sex, it’s a survival behaviour. For most men who buy it, it’s a freely made choice to exploit a woman’s vulnerability and lack of options. The council is right to stop giving it the stamp of legitimacy.
We’re glad the council is working on a Harm Reduction Framework with various partners and hope this work will be properly funded. In recent years the City of Edinburgh Council has spent next to no money on supporting women involved in prostitution, while at the same time earning money from licence holders’ application fees and rates. We found, from an FOI inquiry, that the Council spends less than the salary of one qualified social worker every year on voluntary sector support for women involved in prostitution in Edinburgh; and that it offers no training to Council employees on identifying the needs of prostituted women (and men), on supporting them and enabling them to exit from prostitution. Also, at the point the question was asked, the council had NO strategies, policies and protocols in relation to prostituted women (and men). Women involved in prostitution have complex needs and a range of vulnerabilities. They need exit and support services; not to be written out of council policy and then left to the vagaries of the market.
We hope today’s decision is the first step in a process towards grappling with the realities of prostitution in Edinburgh and addressing the issues that saunas and massage parlours represent.
To read more about our position on prostitution see this comment piece, http://www.womensviewsonnews.org/2013/08/prostitution-edinburghs-sauna-issues/
Our response to the Council consultation is available here: (see attachment)
|CEC sauna licensing consultation Dec 2013 (1).pdf|
Added: February 3, 2014