I have (in fact, all Southend-on-Sea Borough Councillors have) received the following email two days ago. I think it needs no introduction.
I am writing to you with regards to the application for a Sex Entertainment Venue Club Licence made by Steven Laidlaw on 28th October 2014 for a proposed striptease, pole dancing and lap dancing venue at 3 Warrior House, 42 – 82 Southchurch Road, Southend-On-Sea, Essex, SS1 2LZ.
As a new resident of Thorpe Bay, Southend-on-Sea, I was very pleased to note that the council had opted to adopt the provisions in the Policing and Crime Act 2009 to licence lap dancing clubs as Sexual Entertainment Venues under the Local Government Miscellaneous Provisions Act (1982) and I congratulate for being amongst the more forward thinking local authorities. As you will be aware, the adoption by Southend-on-Sea Borough Council of the new powers to licence lap dancing clubs as Sex Entertainment Venues affords the council significantly greater powers to control and regulate such clubs than you had in the past. I think this is an incredibly important piece of legislation and I call upon you to make full use of it when considering the application mentioned above.
I would urge you to introduce a ‘nil’ policy for Sexual Entertainment Venues in Southend-on-Sea, as permitted under Schedule 3 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (LGMPA) 1982 and amended by Section 27 of the Policing and Crime Act (PCA) 2009. This would mean refusing a licence for the proposed club at Warrior House and declining to renew licenses for the two existing lap dancing venues in the town.
Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has a legal responsibility as laid down in the Gender Equality Duty 2007 to promote equality between women and men in all it does, including in its licensing policies and decisions. Striptease, pole dancing or lap dancing clubs are incompatible with any efforts to promote gender equality.
The Gender Equality Duty is particularly relevant in relation to the licensing of sex establishments because of the gendered nature of sex establishments like striptease, pole dancing and lap dancing clubs, and because of the negative impact that lap dancing clubs have on efforts to promote equality between women and men.
The negative implications of lap dancing clubs on women are outlined below:
1. Striptease, pole dancing and lap dancing clubs normalise the sexual objectification of women in contradiction to efforts to promote equality between women and men.
In an interview in The Echo on 28th October 2014, Mr Laidlaw said of his proposed club: “This will be an upmarket gentlemen’s club . . . with really nice interiors. It is not simply a gentlemen’s club. There will be no nudity in the bar area, so it will be a nice place to relax, even for couples to come to.” This clearly illustrates the attempt to make this type of venue seem a ‘normal’ and acceptable part of everyday life, whilst also suggesting that female customers will only be welcome in certain parts of the venue, thus promoting inequality of access.
The links between objectification, discrimination and violence against women are recognised at the international level by the legally binding United Nations Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which has repeatedly called on states, including the British Government, to take action against the objectification of women. Similarly the UK-based End Violence Against Women coalition has called on the UK Government to tackle the sexualisation of women and girls because it provides a ‘conducive context’ for violence against women.
2. Striptease, pole dancing and lap dancing clubs promote ‘sex-object’ culture and the mainstreaming of the sex and porn industries.
Southend-on-Sea is home to a campus of the University of Essex and, as such, the local authority should be doing its part to promote healthy and respectful attitudes towards women amongst the people enrolled to study there. Research carried out by the National Union of Students found that half of participants identified “prevailing sexism, ‘laddism’ and a culture of harassment” at their university. The research also showed that groping in nightclubs was viewed by some as part of a ‘normal’ night out, an attitude the addition of a striptease, pole dancing and lap dancing club in the town will do nothing to appease.
In addition, the growth of lap dancing clubs has fed into what OBJECT, a human rights organisation specifically set up to challenge the sexual objectification of women, terms ‘sex-object’ culture, namely the mainstreaming of the sex and porn industries and the ever increasing sexual objectification of women and girls. With lax licensing laws leading to the number of lap dancing clubs doubling over the last five years, and a PR makeover branding lap dancing as glamorous and ‘harmless fun’, we have found ourselves in a situation in which major retailers sell pole dancing kits along with pink frilly garters and paper money in their ‘toys and games section’, and leisure centres offer pole dancing lessons to girls as young as twelve. This has led to 25% of teenage girls seeing being a lap dancer as their ideal profession.
These attitudes and assumptions about young women’s aspirations and potential should not be supported by any borough council, let alone one affiliated with a University with such a strong reputation for human rights education.
3. Striptease, pole dancing and lap dancing work are part of the sex industry and as such are linked with wider systems of prostitution.
In The Echo, Mr Laidlaw stated that his proposed venture would create fifty jobs but I would question how many of these are to be permanent, full-time positions. Many striptease, pole dancing and lap dancing clubs only offer women dancers work as self-employed freelancers. This means they pay to ‘rent’ their time in the club and are working to break-even by the end of the shift, a situation that creates a sense of competition between the women dancing there. In fact, research shows that the structural conditions of lap dancing clubs, where women compete with one another for private dances, lead to some dancers offering sexual services to survive financially, a climate in which, according to an ex-lap dancer: ‘No touching, not exposing your genitals, not allowing men to touch you is the exception rather than the rule’. Even if a club enforces a no touching rule and there is no sexual contact between dancer and customer, research further shows that strip clubs increase demand for nearby prostitution services. This places lap dancing on a continuum of commercial sexual activity, irrespective of whether this sexual exchange occurs within the club itself.
I would hope the representatives of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council will be clarifying with Mr Laidlow the exact nature of the employment opportunities he is creating, especially regarding the employment status of the women dancers.
4. Striptease, pole dancing and lap dancing clubs have a negative impact on women’s safety in the local vicinity.
Research undertaken in the London Borough of Camden found a fifty percent increase in sexual assaults in the borough after the rapid expansion of lap dancing clubs. Personal testimony from women who have written to OBJECT reinforces the idea of a link between the proliferation of lap dancing clubs and increased levels of sexual harassment for women in the vicinity: ‘On separate occasions, I have had men say to me “How much for a dance love? I’ll give you £20 to get yours out,”… they seem to always think that because they can pay to degrade and abuse women inside the club that I am no different’
The UK Royal Institute of Town Planning has further drawn attention to concerns regarding the impact of lap dancing clubs on women in the local areas: ‘Evidence shows that in certain locations, lap dancing and exotic dancing clubs make women feel threatened or uncomfortable’. This is clearly an issue of gender inequality and against the principles of The Gender Equality Duty as areas of Southend-on-sea are essentially being made into ‘no-go’ areas for women during certain times of the evening.
5. Striptease, pole dancing and lap dancing clubs have a negative impact on women’s safety in wider society.
Lap dancing clubs normalise the representation of women as being always sexually available and this is worrying in light of widespread public opinion that women are in some way responsible for sexual assaults perpetrated against them. The links between the expansion of lap dancing clubs and an increase in the levels of sexual violence have been raised by organisations that work with victims and perpetrators of gender-based violence. For example, as Chair of Rape Crisis Nicole Westmarland reported that lap dancing clubs ‘both support and are a consequence of sexual violence in society’. This view is reiterated by the Director of the White Ribbon Campaign, an organisation which works with men to end violence against women: ‘Any expansion of lap dancing clubs feeds an increase in the lack of respect for women’.
Furthermore, in response to research it commissioned into the impact of lap dancing clubs on the city, Glasgow City Council stated:
“Images of women and ‘entertainment’ which demean and degrade women portraying them as sexual objects plays a part in ‘normalising’ sexual violence and contributes to male abuse of women being acceptable, tolerated, condoned and excused. Such entertainment runs counter to explicit commitments by a range of private, public and voluntary agencies to promoting women’s equality.”
For all the reasons listed above, I call on the council to adopt a ‘nil’ policy in relation to Sex Entertainment Venues.
However, if you do not adopt a nil policy and Sex Entertainment Venues are to be granted and / or renewed, I would urge you to ensure that the set of standard conditions produced by Philip Kolvin QC, Chairman of the Institute of Licensing, are applied to such licenses in order to help protect women in this community:
• No contact between performers and audience and a minimum of 1 meter separation between performers and audience.
• Performers confined to stage area.
• Prevention of fining performers, for example for missing designated dance times, wearing incorrect clothing or not ensuring clients purchase drinks.
• Zero tolerance policy on customers who break rules of conduct with contravention warranting a lifetime ban from the premises.
• Prohibition of private booths (even with panic buttons) due to the high risk nature of this dynamic for the women.
• CCTV coverage of all public areas at all times and a requirement that the Council be informed immediately should CCTV equipment be out of commission.
• Controls on exterior advertising and signage, including prohibition of advertising in public spaces, including on billboards, telephone booth boards, and leafleting and no advertising allowed in media that is not exclusively aimed at adults, this would exclude local ʻfamilyʼ newspapers for example.
• Sex establishments are not to be functionally visible to passers-by on retail thoroughfares or pedestrian routes. Premises should be at basement level or with a main entrance away from such routes.
• A register to be kept of all staff working each night and valid proof to be held on the premises of the age of each of the performers.
• Police to be kept informed of any assaults that take place on staff, whether or not the victim wishes to press charges.
• ‘No smoking areasʼ to be enforced at the front of clubs to minimise the potential for harrassment of women living, working and passing through the area. All smoking areas must be in private areas away from public spaces.
These conditions would go some way to protecting women working in lap dancing clubs and women in the wider community. However, because of the negative impact that striptease, pole dancing and lap dancing clubs have on women’s equality and women’s safety as outlined above, I ultimately call on you to take a bold stance against the growth of lap dancing clubs by setting a ‘nil’ policy in relation to Sex Entertainment Venues.
Finally, I would be grateful if you could provide me with details of the conditions currently in place for Southend-on-Sea’s two existing lap dancing venues (Sunset Southend in Lucy Road and the Forrester’s Arms in Marine Parade).
on behalf of The Essex Feminist Collective
 1979 Convention on All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Article 5
 Realising Rights, Fulfilling Obligations: An Integrated Strategy to End Violence Against Women (EVAW) 2008
 Eden, I. (2007) Inappropriate Behaviour: Adult Venues and Licensing in London, London: The Lilith Project, Eaves Housing for Women.
 BBC News Online (2006), ‘Children are Taught Pole Dancing’ Tuesday, 12 December 2006, url: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/tyne/6173805.stm
 Bindel, J. (2004) Profitable Exploits: Lap Dancing in the UK, London Metropolitan University, Child and Women Abuse Studies Unit (CWASU)
 ‘Elena’ quoted in ‘I was an Object, not a Person, The Guardian 19.03.08
 Coy, M, Horvath, M & Kelly, L (2007) It’s just like going to the supermarket: Men talk about buying sex in East London London: Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit
 Eden, I. (2003) Lilith Report on Lap Dancing and Striptease in the Borough of Camden, London: The Lilith Project, Eaves Housing for Women
 See www.object.org.uk for testimonies
 Royal Town Planning Institute (2007), Gender and Spatial Planning, Good Practice Note 7,10 December 2007
 Both quotes are from an OBJECT leaflet 2008
 Glasgow City Council report on the need for review of licensing legislation in the light of concerns re table dancing http://www.glasgow.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/0D19236F-808A-4467-96F7-6A9508C1F312/0/legtablic2.pdf