Lap dancing and sexual violence

Lap dancing clubs are being marketed as more socially acceptable but Labour MP Celia Barlow explains

Lap dancing clubs are marketed as being a glamorous and socially acceptable night out, accompanied by professional advertising and in many cases an up-market ambiance. The realities, however, are very different.

These clubs normalise the idea of paying for sex and this is something which should not be acceptable in modern society. Research has linked lap-dancing to human trafficking, prostitution and an increase in sexual violence towards women. For example, after lap dancing clubs opened in Camden, incidents of rape rose by 50% with other types of sexual violence increasing by 57%. The existence of such clubs is a regressive step in what has been a progressive decade for women’s rights.

As a result of the 2003 Licensing Act, strip clubs have sprung up across the country due to loop holes in the legislation which make it easier for such clubs to get licences. Indeed, under the current rules, venues do not need special permission for nudity and the powers of local authorities to reject applications are severely restricted. Now, strip-clubs are licensed in the same way that cafes and ballet schools are.

Since 2005, Brighton & Hove has seen five such clubs open where none existed before. As more and more publicans become aware of the law, the number will continue to grow. In my own constituency, Hove, a local pub submitted a planning application to host regular exotic dance evenings. It is in a residential area and is located close to schools, churches and youth groups and, if allowed, would cause severe problems for local residents. I have been campaigning with local residents to defeat the application.

While the panel of local Councillors turned the license down, the landlords have appealed, and more often than not in similar cases, the rejection has been over turned by the Magistrates Court.

Hove is not alone in this battle. Tower Hamlets in London has had problems with such clubs being situated in the vicinity of Mosques, and in Durham a license application has gone to appeal for a planned lap dancing club in the shadow of Durham Cathedral. These clubs have sprung up in the hearts of our communities and it is right that these same communities have the final say.

In Parliament, a strong coalition of MPs and Peers, in conjunction with Object – the pressure group who campaign against the objectification of women and the normalisation of the porn and sex industries - and many local authorities, have come together to campaign for a review of the licensing legislation in relation to strip clubs. We want to see these clubs classified as “sex encounter establishments” which would make them part of the sex industry. These changes would allow local councils to closely regulate these venues and give power back to local communities.

I have held meetings with the relevant government ministers, as have many of my colleagues, and the response so far has been encouraging. As the minister responsible for licensing, Gerry Sutcliffe MP announced in an Adjournment Debate last month that he would review the current legislation in order to restrict the number of lap dancing clubs in local areas. Mr Sutcliffe also promised to consult with ministerial colleagues over a permanent change to the law.

This announcement can give us a great deal of encouragement, but we need to keep up the pressure to ensure this badly needed review takes place and that the laws are changed to protect our communities.

If you’d like to join the campaign, please http://www.celiabarlow.org.uk”>log-on to my website and sign the petition.

Celia Barlow is the Labour MP for Hove & Portslade.