Just a few years ago the Association of Adult Entertainment Venues (AAEV) refuted claims that lap dancing venues are a front for prostitution and human trafficking. This came at a time when licensing laws were changing to account for sexual activities at clubs.
Nightclubs, bars and restaurants must all meet a certain conditions and safety standards to retain their license to serve. However, when an establishment in Glasgow was denied a license for reasons that had less to do with alcohol safety and more to do with sexual activity, these were revised. In 2015, new legislation was introduced that established a regulatory system for adult entertainment venues. In order to serve alcohol an establishment will have to undergo scrutiny from two distinct licensing boards.
MSPs Sandra White and Cara Hilton argued that distinct licensing was necessary. The very existence of clubs is what seemed to bother Hilton, who told the BBC, “we need to challenge a culture where women and girls are viewed and treated as sexualised objects.”
Other advocates problematised the safety of the clubs in addition to the culture they promote. Stigma can keep these venues out of the public eye and make it more difficult to ensure the safety of patrons and staff alike.
Jan McLeod from the Glasgow Women’s Support project claiming, “there is evidence of sexual harassment, stalking, assault, coercion and prostitution associated with these activities.”
However, since 2015 there has been little national discussion of either felonies associated with legal adult entertainment venues or of such venues being choked by legislation and shutting up shop.
In Edinburgh, unlike in many other cities, adult entertainment venues are not granted late night licenses. While nightclubs can stay open until 3AM, establishments regulated by the 2015 act need to close their doors by 1AM. Some venues, however, have argued that they should get a late night license in order to look after their patrons until later in the night. Venues in the city’s well-known ‘Pubic Triangle’ in particular are near to both the University of Edinburgh’s central campus and the Edinburgh College of Art, not to mention the hub of bars and clubs in the centre of Old Town.
It could be argued that any disorderly patrons should not be forced out so near to young students who will still be in clubs at this time. Burke and Hare and The Western Bar close at one just blocks away from Silk, Atik and Smash with student housing densely populating the surrounding area. For individuals who have been enjoying lap dances and drinks to choose to continue their night among students could be concerning if Hilton’s concerns have merit.
Could the dim lights of Burke and Hare be so different from the haze of Grassmarket that, in one place, a woman is a sexualized object and in another she isn’t?
Many organizations and MPs who campaigned to pass the 2015 reforms have done little to address these questions or to follow up on the success of their work. Zero Tolerance – a charity tackling the causes of violence against women – posted online they hoped the legislation, “would lead to a change in the overall number of these venues in Scotland,” yet the public policy fight seems to have disappeared with the businesses still in operation.
Whether or not these concerns have merit is a much more difficult question. Many adult entertainment workers and even sex workers have come forward arguing that their work empowers them, and sometimes the distinction between dancing that happens on prestigious stages during Fringe and the dancing the in strip clubs can seem arbitrary.
Other workers have spoken out against their employers, but painting with a broad brush can be dangerous when so few voices are heard. With the nightlife in Edinburgh being as active as it is, such an issue becomes increasingly important.
Image: Rick Hall