The Environment and Community Safety Scrutiny Board are meeting tomorrow to discuss the City Council’s Sex Entertainment Venue policy. Below is a letter from Coventry Women’s Voices to members of the Board. If you have time to write your own letter, please do!
I understand that the committee that was looking into licensing policy for Sex Entertainment Venues has referred the decision to the Community Safety Scrutiny Board and to the Cabinet. I am writing on behalf of Coventry Women’s Voices to ask that Coventry City Council set a ‘Nil’ policy for Sex Entertainment Venues (SEVs) in Coventry.
The City Council has the power to decide the number of sex entertainment venues it is appropriate to have in Coventry, including setting a ‘nil’ policy.
At present Coventry has one SEV. The draft policy that was agreed until the final council decision is that the appropriate number of SEVs for Coventry is two. Coventry Women’s Voices do not believe that there is any need for Sex Entertainment Venues in Coventry. We believe that Sex Entertainment Venues have a damaging impact on women’s safety and human rights. We therefore ask that you set a ‘nil’ limit.
This is an issue of women’s human rights and equality between the sexes. Under the Equality Act public bodies such as the City Council have a positive duty to promote equality between women and men. Coventry Women’s Voices believe that this can best be done by setting a ‘nil’ policy for Sex Entertainment Venues.
Lap dancing clubs have a negative impact on women’s safety. Research by Avon and Somerset Police for example showed that in a two year period to 2011 sexual and violent crime in Bristol increased by 82% within a 50 metre radius of Sex Entertainment Venues compared to 45% in the rest of the city centre area.
Many of our members are concerned that lap dancing clubs would attract stag parties and other groups of men into the city centre at night, increasing intimidating and making them feel unsafe.
In addition lap dancing clubs are linked with prostitution. Women generally pay a fee to club owners and then have to compete with each other for private dances. Whatever the ‘no touching’ and other rules in the club, women in this situation will be under a great deal of pressure to offer sexual services in order to make any money. This puts the women working in the clubs in a vulnerable and potentially exploitative position.
I understand that there have been concerns raised about a possible legal challenge under the Human Rights Act if a club were denied a licence. Coventry Women’s Voices approached leading human rights lawyer Dr James Harrison, co-director of the Centre for Human Rights in Practice at Warwick University about this issue. He concluded that:
‘As long as local authorities make some form of rational assessment of the character of the area this is highly unlikely (one could even go as far as to say almost impossible) to be subject to any kind of successful legal challenge. The courts have always given a great deal of discretion to public authorities in cases where they are exercising this kind of social control’
Lord Hoffman, giving judgement in the case of Belfast City Council vs. Misbehaving ltd (where the council were found not to have breached the human rights act in denying a licence to a sex shop) commented: “I find it difficult to imagine a case in which a proper exercise by the Council of its powers under the Order could be a breach of an applicant’s Convention rights.”
There are human rights issues to consider when deciding on SEV policy, but these relate to the rights of women not to be exploited, harassed or assaulted. In addition the Council should consider its duties under the Equality Act to promote equality between women and men. Sex Entertainment Venues, and the culture they help foster, damage equality and provide a ‘conducive context’ for violence against women.
I am attaching our full response to the Council’s review of policy.