Strippers vowed to carry on working in Edinburgh despite a ban on venues – which will put nearly 100 dancers out of jobs.
Councilors voted to impose the ‘nil cap’ policy which will see the ‘pubic triangle’ of bars in Westport and a fourth club in the city center close, amid concerns about links to violence against women.
The City of Edinburgh Council has been threatened with legal action by the United Sex Workers union, which fears women will come to more harm if they are working off the books with no protection from a venue.
A protest will be held within the next month with dancers taking part from most or all of the four clubs.
Managers from two of the bars have also confirmed they have sought advice from lawyers – and some dancers admitted performing illegally during lockdown due to the demand from punters.
Mum-of-three Bonnie, who works as a dancer, said she feels safer stripping than out in nightclubs with friends.
She said: “I had my drink spiked in a nightclub a couple of weeks ago. I was shocked. I feel safer here than on a normal night out.
“It has been a bit quiet since the vote was in the papers, it’s as if people think we’re already shut. We need to let people know we’re very much open for business.
“Demand won’t stop if they shut us down. The council have no idea what they’re doing.
“They’ve just ignored what we told them about safety. It feels like we’re being unfairly targeted for the wrong reasons, it’s not about our safety. It’s a vendetta.
“Events will be held privately. I did some during lockdowns. I wouldn’t carry on.
“Even if we worked in pairs I still wouldn’t do it. You can’t predict what customers are like in those situations with no cameras or security.
“In here it’s a controlled environment. Guys can vent, get a bit of titillation. Some just want companionship. What happens if that’s taken away?”
It comes after councils were granted powers to limit SEVs following a 2019 Scottish Government paper concluded that any sex work including stripping was tantamount to violence against women.
Opponents say sexual entertainment venues are part of the problem while union and industry warned it could put them in danger at unlicensed, private events held at unregulated venues like hotels and Airbnbs.
But the council’s regulatory committee voted by five to four to effectively ban the clubs outright by setting a limit of zero on the number of sexual entertainment venues (SEVs) that should be allowed in the city under a new licensing scheme.
Labor councilor Joan Griffiths, who proposed the ban, said the council would “work with women to help them look at their careers and at other employment options.”
Some dancers say they will refuse to be forced out and will carry on stripping – despite the increased risks.
Sarah, 37 said: “There’s no way it’s about our safety. This smacks of slut-shaming. When it suits we are either victims or sluts. The council elections are coming up so some want to make a point.
“I’d say to anyone with a strong opinion to come down and talk to us, see for yourself what we do.”
“We have autonomy. I don’t know any dancers here who are victims or lacking in self esteem. We are nurses, lawyers, property owners, students, fitness instructors.
“I’m taking every shift I can get and will consider carrying on privately if we shut down.
“We need to see real acceptance of women’s choice what we do with our bodies.
“This shouldn’t be forced on us. Politicians should instead look to real inequality in many workplaces – like the pay gap.”
It’s argued by the Equally Safe Edinburgh Committee that lap-dancing clubs suggest “the objectification of women is culturally acceptable”, amid claims SEVs are discriminatory towards women, who allegedly feel ‘unwelcome’ or unsafe in the vicinity.
The manager at the Burke and Hare pub is a former stripper and dismissed the claims.
Manager Jade said: “All our bar staff are women and we get women coming in too. We get customers from across society – single guys, businessmen, stag and hen groups.
“The dancers are not forced to be here. Police have spoken in our favor and local residents are supportive. These are regulated venues with CCTV outside and in.”
“This decision is not based on reality. One group made some serious accusations about rapes and prostitution. It’s insulting and defamatory.
“They are talking about our real lives here – not some gangster film. There’s no evidence that there’s a correlation between these venues and violence against women.
“If they want to put women’s safety first they won’t close us down and force them into dangerous, unregulated situations. There is sadly a stigma and it’s shocking for us that still hasn’t gone away.
“But the problem here is misconception. The councilors who have been to visit voted to allow us to remain open.
“That says it all. It’s unfair that folk who haven’t set foot in the place can hold their own personal views against us.”
A City of Edinburgh Council spokesperson, said: “The Regulatory Committee agreed to adopt the licensing system for Sexual Entertainment Venues (SEVs) from 1 April 2023.
“It approved the policy and condition of license for these venues and set the appropriate number of venues in the city at zero.
“It’s important to note that SEVs can still apply for a license and committee would consider them against the policy agreed today.”
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