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Strip club ban: Edinburgh threatens to shut all sexual entertainment venues

We speak to three dancers whose jobs are under threat

Alina*, 31, currently works as a dancer at a strip club in Edinburgh. But by the end of this week, she may find herself out of a job.

On Thursday March 31, Edinburgh Council will vote on whether to limit the number of sexual entertainment venues (SEVs) in the city or to impose a ‘nil cap’ policy – which would effectively ban strip clubs altogether. The vote follows the publication of the Scottish Government’s strategy for preventing violence against women and girls (VAWG) in 2019, which argued that “prostitution, lap dancing, stripping, pornography” encompassed and engendered VAWG. To date, there is no evidence for this.

Naturally, many strippers have raised the alarm over the proposed nil cap policy in Edinburgh and pointed out that banning strip clubs will, conversely, put women at greater risk of violence. Ultimately, outlawing strip clubs will not eradicate the demand for them and will only force strippers to work at private events or undertake street-based sex work, which is ten times more dangerous than indoor sex work.

The uncertainty has already had a detrimental impact on Alina’s mental health and caused her anxiety to skyrocket. “If a nil cap is introduced, I will be forced to work at private events, hotels and Airbnbs where there is no CCTV and no security, and I would probably have to rely on third parties and give these third parties a portion of my earnings,” she says. “Or I would have to travel from Edinburgh to Glasgow or to different cities in England to work.”

“A nil cap decision could push me into poverty or force me to rely on benefits.” Given the ongoing cost of living crisis, now is arguably the worst possible time for Alina to be forcibly put out of work.

Dolly*, 35, is another dancer based in Edinburgh who shares Alina’s concerns. “We’re starting to understand that victim-blaming is nothing but detrimental in the fight against gender-based violence, but I implore people to extend this to women's choice of job,” she says. “Blaming gender-based violence on the existence of clubs and the dancers who choose to work there is also victim-blaming. It stigmatises and marginalises the dancers, which in turn puts them at risk in society.”

“I’m commonly asked: ‘are you safe?’ and the answer is a resounding yes,” she continues. “Clubs are required to have CCTV and door staff – without these, it wouldn’t be safe. If clubs are closed, the demand will still be there and dancers will then have to work at private events with no CCTV or security. To propose a nil cap on clubs is absolutely endangering women.”

“Blaming gender-based violence on the existence of clubs and the dancers who choose to work there is also victim-blaming. It stigmatises and marginalises the dancers, which in turn puts them at risk in society.” – Dolly

Even if the council don’t close any clubs and instead decide to cap the number of SEVs at four – the current number of operating SEVs – Alina explains that this would give the few bosses who are currently running these venues a complete monopoly in the industry. “This means that they will have no reason to improve their practices for their workers or customers, and that no new, more progressive venues can open,” she explains.

Alexis, 43, is another dancer from Edinburgh who would be affected by the ban. “I would be left with two options: to move away from my family to a city which does allow strip clubs, or stay in Edinburgh so that I can be near my family but put myself at risk by having to do private parties and stag dos where there is no CCTV, bouncers or rules which my customers need to abide by,” she says. 

Closing strip clubs is not going to make it go away. All it will do is push them underground and force the women in the industry to work in dangerous situations. So rather than decreasing violence against women, it will instead be perpetuating it.” Like Alina and Dolly, she too has experienced anxiety in recent months. “I am worried that the job that I have been doing for the past 15 years is going to be taken away from me by people that don’t understand the industry that I work in.” 

“Closing strip clubs is not going to make it go away. All it will do is push them underground” – Alexis

Edinburgh isn’t the only city where strip clubs are facing restrictions – Bristol Council have also proposed banning strip clubs, although they’re yet to set a date for a vote. As is the case with Edinburgh, the proposed ban is intended to stem VAWG but will likely have the opposite effect. Furthermore, data from Avon and Somerset Police found that between 2018 and 2020, sexual assault was far more common in Bristol’s nightclubs than in strip clubs – meaning that this attack on strip clubs is baseless.

Dolly implores councillors to listen to dancers when it comes to voting on capping SEVs. “I understand not everyone is comfortable with the idea of stripping. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and can choose to avoid clubs easily,” she says. “What I do have a problem with is people with biased views making decisions about our clubs, without listening to the opinions and concerns of those who work there.”

We can only hope that councillors show empathy towards strippers and consider what it would be like to be made suddenly unemployed through no fault of your own in the current economic climate. Because despite the industry’s imperfections, sex work is still work, and workers – particularly working-class, female workers – deserve to be protected.

*Names have been changed