Sunday, 8 March 2015

For the Daughters of Athena

Our position remains the same: any policy or
legislative framework should aim to challenge and reduce sexual exploitation and the objectification of women.

When the Scottish Government open a consultation on 'the regulation of sexual entertainment venues' in 2013, the Woman's Support Project issued an articulate and reasoned briefing paper. It clarified the position of the WSP on lap-dancing, and explained its opinions on the ten questions put up by the government, encouraging people to contribute. This document provides a strong analysis of the current situation, from a particular perspective, and makes a case for the necessity of legislation despite, notwithstanding the later question in the Scottish Parliament by MSP Lara Hilton, the possibility of banning lap-dance venues having been made almost impossible following previous attempts.

Above all, the WSP insists that activities such as stripping, lap dancing, pole dancing, and table dancing or “sexual entertainment” are forms of commercial sexual exploitation and so we are opposed to their existence. These activities are incompatible with work on gender equality and on violence against women.This position is followed by a belief that that the current situation is not sustainable and leaves women very much at risk.

This is followed by reference to a series of reports describing the impact of lap-dancing on women working in the industry. The analyses of Giga, Hoel and Cooper and independent testimonies point to the industry as dangerous and exploitative. 

It is this that the argument against lap-dancing rests upon, and any serious legislation would be concerned with protecting vulnerable women. However, the ten questions that follow  - those asked by the consultation - are frequently concerned with matters of licensing, definition and community decision making. There are no questions that home in on matters of staff exploitation. 

As part of a broader conversation, the WSP clearly have an important voice (their intention to increase understanding of the myths and realities surrounding commercial sexual exploitation reflects a sensitivity to the public perception of sex work and a desire to expose the truth): their a priori assumptions about sex work are based in a rigorous sociological feminism. And that they begin their briefing with direct references to exploitation emphasises that they are privileging a compassionate rather than moralistic approach to the topic.

Where I disagree with the WSP is in accepting this:

local authorities, through consultation and
input from community members and service providers, should have the powers to not only set the amount of venues to be licensed but also to determine the types of activities that can take place if a venue is granted a license. This need to be supported through a clear regime of checks and monitoring by the appropriate staff who have been trained in Violence Against Women and Gender Equality. 

These kind of powers are not aimed at reducing exploitation, but handing power to local authorities to licence venues.  

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