Challenging violence against women with an air weapons license?

by Zero Tolerance Capacity Building Officer, Liz Ely

Prevention of violence against women is something that requires action from every sector of society; at Zero Tolerance, our work to prevent and challenge violence often takes us to some unlikely places; a case in point is the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill, which will be debated on Thursday the 23rd of April at 2.30pm.

Image © Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body – 2012. Licensed under the Open Scottish Parliament Licence v1.0.

Concern with a small subsection in a bill to licence air weapons might seem far removed from our usual work of supporting early years workers to challenge gender inequality, ortraining youth workers to challenge abuse and exploitation in teen relationships; however there are important connections to be made.

Sub section 68 concerns the licensing of Sexual Entertainment Venues (SEVs) perhaps more commonly known as lap-dancing clubs. The very existence of SEVs is part of a culture which pressures women, particularly young women, to see themselves primarily as sexual objects, and teaches men to view women as such. Challenging the existence of SEVs forms an important part of promoting gender equality and VAW prevention.

Given that these venues continue to exist, this current drive to license SEVs is welcome; however there remain some serious areas of concern from a prevention of violence against women perspective. In the current guidance, under-18s would be allowed to work in sexual entertainment venues, although only at times when ‘sexual entertainment’ is not taking place. This opens up the very real prospect of girls from the age of 16 working in lap dancing clubs as cleaners, and then encouraged to become dancers when they turn 18.

The fact that young women or men will be able to work in SEVs presents a real barrier to our drive to support young people to form relationships based on mutual respect and equality. If young men and women are immersed in an industry where their value lies as a sexual commodity, what messages does this give about male and female sexuality? Also worrying is  the fact that many of these venues routinely screen pornography, which presents a child protection issue, or the fact that these venues are often places where men seek to pay for sex.

Another area of concern lies in the lack of a ‘fit and proper’ person test. Those of us who have worked with young or vulnerable people will be aware of the numerous checks required to undertake this work. Even those seeking a license to serve alcohol must also undergo a ‘fit and proper person’ test. Given the nature of SEVs, and the number of often vulnerable young women who work there, the omission of a fit and proper person test is alarming.

What can I do about this?

The Air Weapons and Licensing Bill is being debated on Thursday the 23rd, and we are encouraging anyone who shares our concerns to contact their MSP.
Ask them to attend the debate and support:

  • The Committee’s recommendation that the licensing regime for SEVs should be mandatory rather than discretionary.

  • The Committee’s recommendation that the exemption for venues which would plan to hold ‘entertainment’ on four or fewer occasions each year be removed.

  • The Committee’s recommendation that there should be Scottish Government guidance on the Local Authority power to set a limit on the number of SEVs in their area – which could be nil.

  • The Committee’s recommendation that all aspects of SEV licencing (including alcohol and advertising) be brought under the control of a single body to improve transparency and community engagement.

As well as raising concerns about:

  • Allowing under-18s to work in SEVs.

  • The fact that there is no ‘fit and proper’ person test for a licensee of a SEV included in the Bill, while there is such a test for an alcohol license holder.

  • The lack of provision for restricting signage and advertising of SEVs.

  • The lack of provision for community consultation on the provision of SEV licenses.

  • The lack of provision for higher licence fees, recognising that SEVs are not accessed by all sections of society like cafes or pubs.

  • The lack of requirement for a mandatory ‘licensing policy statement’ in which licensing committees have to make a public statement about their intention in licensing these venues.

  • How regulating SEVs fits with the Scottish Government strategy on violence against women and girls, which includes commercial sexual exploitation as a form of violence against women.

You can find your MSP here.

  • You can also raise awareness of the Bill on social media using the hashtag #SEVLicensing

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