Sexual Entertainment Venues: a new law and a chance for change

Photo: TW Collins (CC) (edited)

by Zero Tolerance Co-director, Jenny Kemp

Working to end violence against women is a tiring and tough task. Zero Tolerance has been campaigning for over 20 years now. So, it’s always nice to be able to share some good news of positive progress! The Scottish Parliament has passed a new law on licensing, which includes a new regime to license sexual entertainment venues (SEVs), or lap-dancing clubs, as most people call them.This is the first time that a regime for the proper regulation of lap-dancing and strip clubs has existed in Scotland.

Zero Tolerance thinks that these venues contribute to a sleazy, sexist, objectifying culture, which normalises gender inequality and increases violence against women. We would rather they didn’t exist. Strip clubs, lap-dancing bars, and pole-dancing clubs are venues which demean women and encourage men to engage in sexual exploitation and call it ‘entertainment’. However, when this Bill was first proposed, we recognised that full-scale closure wasn’t on the table, and so we engaged with the process of securing reform, knowing that the status quo was definitely not an option. Sometimes, change comes in increments.

Lap-dancing clubs have never been properly regulated in Scotland, and that has led to all sorts of breaches of the flimsy (non-binding) ‘conditions’ attached to their alcohol licences such as breaches of the no touching rule, provision of private booths (which facilitates prostitution), and fully nude performances. Local authorities have not had proper powers to refuse licenses, or to police activity within these venues.

When Glasgow City Council wanted to withhold a public entertainment license, the ‘Brightcrew’ legal ruling confirmed that only the alcohol provision in the venue could be regulated, not the ‘entertainment’ it provided. Another local authority, Highland, granted a licence for a strip club in Inverness, despite objecting heavily, because it had no legal powers to refuse. So the law in this area desperately needed to change.

The final debate on the Air Weapons and Licensing Bill was held on 25 June 2015 and the Bill was passed into law with a healthy majority. The debate was very passionate and many MSPs spoke eloquently about the need to tackle objectification, including Cara Hilton, who worked hard to secure important amendments to the Bill, and who said “We need to challenge a culture where women and girls are viewed and treated as sexualised objects”. Sandra White (who has worked on this issue for years and was instrumental in getting this new regime into law), Ken MacIntosh, and Malcolm Chisholm, also spoke about the importance of this issue. It is great to have MSPs who really understand the harms of sexual objectification and speak out on these issues in our Parliament.

We at Zero Tolerance are delighted that the Bill was passed and that:

  • SEVs will be properly regulated for the first time
  • Local authorities will have to produce an ‘SEV Licensing Policy Statement’, meaning councils will have to consider the impact of licensing SEVs in their area
  • Councils will have to consider issues such as ‘protecting children and young people from harm’ and ‘reducing violence against women’ so SEVs will not be allowed to operate in a policy vacuum
  • Local authorities will have the power to set a limit on the number venues in their area, which can include a limit of zero SEVs
  • Communities will need to be properly consulted on the granting of SEV licences. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice said in the final debate on the Bill that the statutory guidance on the bill will indicate the types of bodies to be consulted, “and my intention is that they will certainly include bodies such as violence against women partnerships”.
This is a huge step forward, and we hope it will lead to a change in the overall number of these venues in Scotland. Change comes slowly, in increments, but it is always worth fighting for; we can change the world, one high street at a time.

To learn more about  SEV Licensing in Scotland, visit our previous blogs on this issue:

“Sexual Entertainment Venues”: Where are we now?

Challenging violence against women with an air weapons license

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