A group of Edinburgh strippers have announced that they will be launching a judicial review of City of Edinburgh Council’s strip club ban.
United Sex Workers (USW), the union branch the performers are members of, raised over £20,000 since June in crowdfunded donations to launch the legal challenge.
USW’s legal challenge will aim to prove that the council’s ban on strip clubs constitutes unlawful gender discrimination.
The council’s regulatory committee voted in March to limit the number of strip club licences in the city to zero, meaning the four venues that currently exist would not legally be allowed to operate by April 2023.
In a press statement provided to The Student, a spokesperson for USW said: “We are incredibly pleased we managed to hit our fundraising target within the space of only a few weeks.
“We only hope the wealth of public support & action we’ve received sends a clear message to politicians that a nil-cap is not aligned with their constituents’ interests.”
In conversation with The Student, a spokesperson for USW said that around 100 workers will lose their jobs if the clubs close.
They added that the clubs shutting would cut some dancers who occasionally travel to work in Edinburgh off from opportunities for paid work in a safe environment.
United Sex Workers’ legal challenge is set to serve as a litmus test for strip club bans in other UK cities.
Scottish councils were given the power to regulate sexual entertainment venues (SEVs), including strip clubs, by the Scottish Government in 2019, as part of a campaign to eradicate gender-based violence.
If a council chooses to regulate SEVs, it has the option of placing a limit on the number of licences for such venues allowed to operate inside the council, including the option to limit the number of venues to zero (a “nil-cap”).
During the meeting that held the vote to shutter the city’s clubs, the regulatory committee heard evidence from strippers, who voiced concerns that they would be pushed into unsafe working conditions and poverty by a ban.
Suzanne, an Edinburgh performer and trade union representative, said to the committee: “According to the council’s statistics, 3.6 per cent of people [in Edinburgh] are unemployed…most people [in Edinburgh] who are claiming unemployment are women.”
She continued to say that people who would lose work due to the ban would struggle to find alternative sources of income.
“They will still need the income. They will still have families to provide for, education to fund, the need for an extra income because they’re working a minimum wage job.
“If clubs were to shut, I would struggle to find a job that is as flexible around my family, because I will have two children under two.
Another performer, Sophia, spoke about the experience of working in Edinburgh clubs, saying: “The clubs are well run, and we have very little trouble. It is a licenced premises, so customers know they need to behave.
“We are not being abused, and we draw attention to the fact that women are objectified everywhere, and in all professions.
“Without this job, most dancers would probably continue to work in the industry, but be pushed underground, exposing women to the exploitation and discrimination that you seek to protect women from.
“Those who are not pushed underground would be forced to rely on the welfare system, as working as an employee does not give you the freedom that this job as a dancer does.
Her coworker Vicky continued: “The idea of objectification has been mentioned, but everybody seems to overlook the importance of consent.
“Unsolicited objectification is harassment, but it exists in all areas of society. In the club, we give consent to be objectified on our terms, we set out our boundaries and our boundaries are enforced.”
“It’s clear to workers and to customers that it’s a different world in the club compared to outside.”
The council also heard evidence during the meeting from advocates for a strip club ban.
Dr Sasha Rackoff, from Not Buying It, a pressure group which campaigns against SEVs said to councillors that legal challenges against strip club bans in the UK were both rare and that a challenge in Edinburgh would be very unlikely to succeed.
She said that SEVs were dangerous environments for those who work there, telling the councillors: “Sexual contact is absolutely standard, so is harassment and assault. Even rape and gang rape occurs.
“Mass fraud, drink spiking, GBH, stabbings, murders. Prostitution, pimps outside and in. This is the strip industry.”
However, Police Scotland and the council’s licencing officers submitted evidence to the committee saying that the city’s strip clubs were “generally operating without issues”.
A spokesperson for the police service said to the Edinburgh Evening News: “Police Scotland has no evidence that these SEVs contribute negatively to crime and disorder in the city and as such, we offer no opinion on the number of SEVs that should be licenced.”
Police Scotland has endorsed a licencing scheme for SEVs to “ensure the safety of [SEV] staff and customers.”
The members of the regulatory committee were closely split on the decision to ban the venues, voting 5-4 in favour.
Cllr Susan Rae (Green) voted against the nil-cap, saying during the meeting that banned the clubs: “I am seriously concerned for [the performers’] welfare if we take away the licences for these clubs.
“They are going to be forced underground, and their safety, the safety of hundreds of women and their kids, is going to be put at risk.
“It isn’t our place to tell women what they can and cannot do, and where they can or cannot work.
Voting in favour of banning the city’s strip clubs, Cllr Cameron Rose (Conservative) said: “The clear balance comes down on the legitimate interests of women and society generally over the arguments that we have heard today from a group of women who will be economically affected in all sorts of ways, and I accept that, who are involved in what has been described as commercial exploitation.”