“Sexual Entertainment Venues”: Where are we now?

by Zero Tolerance Co-Director, Jenny Kemp

It’s an old aphorism that ‘a week is a long time in politics’. That definitely feels true in Scotland: there’s so much happening that it’s hard to keep track of it all. Here at Zero Tolerance, we’re keeping tabs on various developments including the Scottish Government’s consultation on a new domestic abuse offence; legislation on Human Trafficking; and legislation to create a new licensing regime for Sexual Entertainment Venues (SEVs). This blog is an update on the last of these – SEVs, or lap-dancing clubs, as most people call them.

If a week is a long time, a month is enough time for a lot of parliamentary manoeuvres; some welcome progress; and a minor derailment. We wrote in this blog post on 22 April that we had concerns about some aspects of the new SEV licensing regime, as it was being constructed. (The SEV licensing regime is addressed in the much broader Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill.) Since then, there have been a few developments. The stage one debate in the Scottish Parliament held on 23 April agreed to create a new licensing regime, which is in itself a huge step forward, as lap-dancing clubs have never been properly regulated in Scotland.

The stage two committee meeting on 27th May considered amendments around under-18s working in SEVs; making VAW partnerships a statutory consultee for licence applications; and asking local authorities to produce a licensing policy statement detailing how they see SEVs fitting with their other policy goals. The latter two of these amendments were withdrawn, and the nominating MSP Cara Hilton agreed to work with the Scottish Government to develop new amendments which will address concerns around consultation and policy.  We welcome this. Cara’s contributions were excellent: it is great to hear an MSP say loud and clear in our parliament that “these venues normalise a really harmful form of sexual exploitation.”

However, the amendment on under-18s was voted upon, and was not agreed to. (There were three votes for, three against, one abstention; and the chair’s casting vote was against). We were disappointed by this; and have serious concerns that allowing under-18s to work in SEVs at any time is a child protection issue and opens up an avenue for club owners to groom vulnerable young women into performance roles. These concerns are shared by the Children’s Commissioner, and various children’s charities. We want SEVs to have parity with sex shops, which never employ under-18s.

Zero Tolerance has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, to share our disappointment that the amendment on preventing under-18s from working in SEVs was voted down, and to ask if he will re-visit this issue at stage 3. We also offered our help and support in drafting new amendments.

Issues around violence against women have for the most part been the subject of cross-party agreement and we hope that stage 3 of this Bill will continue that tradition, and that minor (but important) amendments will not become the subject of party political disagreement. I’m confident that we can get to a Bill that everyone supports and that Zero Tolerance will welcome. If Scottish politicians truly aspire to a Scotland that is Equally Safe for everyone, no other outcome will do.

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