22nd April 2008
A feminist campaign has begun against a loophole which allows 'lap dancing' clubs to open as easily as coffee chops just as Christian activists in Worthing have discovered they are powerless to prevent these sleaze joints from opening.
The campaign group Object, backed by Baroness Gould, Labour MP Lynda Waltho and the Fawcett Society, launched a campaign against the clubs in Parliament on Tuesday 22nd April.
Object, part of the London Feminist Network, says that the 2003 Licensing Act introduced a loophole that allows the clubs to be licensed like cafés and karaoke nights, rather than as sex establishments. Women living and working near clubs face increased levels of sexual harassment and "no go" zones, it says.
According to The Guardian, although the first mainstream 'lap dancing' club opened in 1995, their number has doubled in Britain to more than 300 in four years because of the loophole and the marketing of 'lap dancing' as a leisure industry rather than as a branch of the commercial sex industry.
'This categorisation is wholly inadequate given that evidence indicates 'lap dancing' clubs are part of the commercial sex industry,' according to the Object report, published at the launch. 'Many establishments are run in such a way that implicitly encourages clients to seek and expect sexual services from performers, and there is evidence that this occurs in some clubs,' it said.
The report says that so-called 'gentlemen's evenings' are being held in places like Somerset's Burnham-on-Sea, and it cites Stourbridge, Lynda Waltho's constituency, as having five pubs hosting 'lap dancing' nights, and two 'lap dancing' clubs.
The Guardian said: 'In Brighton and Hove, the opening of six lap dancing clubs in a short period of time led the council to promote its own private bill in parliament, aimed at changing the law to license them as sex encounter establishments'.
Residents have so far only successfully challenged a local authority decision to grant a 'lap dancing' club a licence in
. There, the community group involved had to employ a barrister to challenge the decision and now faces the threat that it will be overturned by a high court judicial review.
Indeed, five local authorities who blocked 'lap dancing' club applications have been defeated on appeal. Knowing that, other local authorities, including
, are reluctant to block the clubs because of the legal costs.
Even a long-time resident of Worthing, and one who has led successful campaigns to ban sex shops in the town, the veteran campaigner Steve Stevens, found that the rules had been rewritten to prevent him opposing the introduction of 'lap dancing' at the Liquid Lounge Club in Chatsworth Road.
'I found that under the Licensing Act 203, I was not allowed to oppose it, as I had done successfully for three years in a row in opposing an Rl8 sex shop licence.
'The Licensing Officer informed me that my being a resident in the Borough was not a valid reason to oppose it - unless I lived virtually in ear-shot of the premises. Neither my view nor anyone else's in the Borough would be taken notice of. I could not believe my ears.'
Sandrine Levêque of Object said:
"Our campaign strips away the illusion that you can license cappuccinos in the same way as you license lap dancing. The law currently makes it easy for 'lap dancing' clubs to open, and difficult for local authorities to regulate them or listen to the views of people affected by them. The industry has used this to its advantage."
She said categorising 'lap dancing' clubs as sex encounter establishments would put the power back into the hands of local residents and local authorities. 'The law fails to reflect the social impact of 'lap dancing' clubs or the objections of residents nearby'.
Steve Stevens agrees: 'This is a democratic country and we elect our Councillors expecting them to take our views seriously. Our neighbouring Borough of Brighton and
have been powerless under the Licensing Act 2003 to prevent 'lap dancing.'
'I decided to bypass the Licensing Committee and sent objections to all 35 Councillors. Friends helped me in just five hours to collect 600 petition signatures.
'The Licensing Officer would not accept these signatures because they were not from people in the immediate vicinity, so I sent a copy of the blank petition form to all 35 Councillors mentioning the number of signatures collected in such a short space of time.'
Mr Stevens, a decorated world-war two fighter-bomber pilot, also enclosed a report from
, describing how the police had opposed a 'lap dancing' license in the town. But it was all to no avail. Mr Stevens even went so far as to stand up and disrupt the Licensing Committee meeting with an impromptu speech. He says, 'I knew that would be civil disobedience and I was uneasy as I had never done anything like this before.'
However, the Chairman simply adjourned the meeting to another room, leaving Steve Stevens to face the wrath of his fellow protestors. 'My Christian friends were appalled at what I had done,' he told Christian Voice. Meanwhile, the application for 'lap dancing' was approved.
The issue was recently raised by MPs. Gerry Sutcliffe MP, the culture minister in charge of licensing, said the Government believed the licensing legislation could be used to control 'lap dancing' premises. He promised, however, to raise the issue with Home Office ministers.
PRAY: For an open heart in the Government to this problem, especially now that a feminist group, to whom they may be more sympathetic, has joined the fray. Thank God for the consistent witness of Steve Stevens and pray that his fellow believers in
would not stay too angry with him for too long.
READ: Eph 4:26.
WRITE: To your MP. Ask if your MP has seen the report from 'Object'. Ask if he is aware that 'lap dancing' clubs are failing to be categorised as sex establishments and that local councillors are unable to take any but the most local of objections into account. Ask him to write to the appropriate minister to demand a change in the law.
EDM: Lynda Waltho has put down an Early Day Motion demanding that 'lap dancing' clubs be treated the same as sex shops to give local authorities greater powers to ban them and 'local people a better say in licensing policy.'. Ask your MP to sign Lynda Waltho's EDM which is number 1375.