Thursday, 17 June 2010

Protest against strip club appeal to the BCC

Hi there

As many of you know, a recent strip club application for a lap dancing venue on Old Market was turned down by the Bristol City Council, helped in part by amazing and dedicated campaigning by some Bristol Feminists, who even took time off work to attend the council hearing.

Needless to say, the owner of the proposed club has appealed the decision to try and get the club opened.

The club will ostensibly be a restaurant until 9pm, when it will become a lap dancing venue.

You can read the appeal docs here:

And you can file your objection on this link here:

or here:

Steph has written her objection and I have modified it to include my own personal thoughts and feelings on why Old Market doesn't need another strip club. I have pasted it below for people to make use of if they wish.

Statement to the planning committe in respect of application number: 09/03268/F
Sian Norris

I am making this statement on behalf of myself, as an individual, and as a member of the Bristol Feminist Network.
The impact on the physical and economic regeneration aspirations for Old Market
• Page 10 of the summary document, “the proposed uses will not cause harm to the physical and economic regeneration aspirations for Old Market”.
Ø It needs to be understood that lap dancing clubs do not create viable employment opportunities for women. Lap dancing clubs require the women who work in them to pay a ‘house fee’ to work, which can result in the women losing money during a shift. They are not employed by the clubs and do not receive sick or holiday pay or other benefits. The only employment that is created by a lap dancing club opening would be a small number of bar jobs and security staff jobs, usually oriented towards men.
Ø Page 7 states that “the use of part of the premises as a lap dancing club during night time hours would not have a negative impact of the area or its regeneration prospects so significant as to justify a refusal on these grounds”. This justification assumes that the use of the premises as a lap dancing club is a secondary use to the use of the premises as a restaurant/wine bar during other times and that this will mitigate the use of the premises during its designated times as a lap dancing club.
Ø I know of few women who would feel comfortable visiting a restaurant or a bar that becomes a lap dancing club from 9pm to 3am at weekends and this would, in effect, make the lap dancing club seen as the primary use of the premises by customers. It seems surreal to me that the atmosphere created by a restaurant ‘turning’ into a lap dancing club halfway through a meal aren’t being taken into consideration. This would surely isolate or put off women from feeling happy visiting the restaurant.
Ø Reports have shown that many women feel that the area around lap dancing clubs are ‘no go areas’ for them. It is therefore disingenuous to assume that the use of the premises as a restaurant/wine bar will mitigate the negative effect of the sex related business also on offer.
Ø I personally would not feel happy being on the premises at any time if I knew that lap dancing was on offer. I have lived in Bristol my whole life, and ever since becoming an adult, I have felt unsafe and unwelcome in Old Market, seeing it as a place that is clearly geared towards the sex industry. It is not somewhere where I feel comfortable going or even passing through.

Environmental impact

• The statement on page 7 on the environmental impact of a lap dancing club does not take into account the problems that may be caused for women living and passing through the area. It has not taken into account whether women feel safe around lap dancing clubs, or the level of abuse that women experience when walking past lap dancing clubs. I personally have suffered significant verbal harassment whilst walking past a lap dancing club on St Stephens Street in broad daylight. This kind of abuse becomes even worse at night. I now have to change my walking routes to avoid going past clubs because I was frightened and alarmed by the abuse I had received. I know I am not the only woman that does this. Object have found that sexual violence has risen in areas where lap dancing clubs proliferate having conducted research in Camden. The Tower Hamlets MP, when discussing the new licensing legislation, told the House of Commons how she had been sexually harassed whilst on her way to pray at her mosque by some men waiting outside a lap dancing club. Comments range from “get your tits out, love” to “get your kit out and save us a fiver”, giving us an insight into how the women inside the clubs are treated. It is easy to find anecdotal and statistical evidence to support these claims.
Again, from a personal point of view, I do not feel comfortable walking past a lap dancing club and I always go out of my way to avoid such places when I am out. This is a restriction on my human right to freedom of movement.

Use of smoking terrace

• Page 8 of the application refers to the smoking terrace and states that “assuming that customers to the club are likely to wish to enjoy the ‘entertainment’ rather than to sit out on the terrace in groups smoking for extended periods it is not considered necessary to specifically limit the hours of the terrace’s use for this purpose”.
Ø It cannot be assumed that those visiting a lap dancing will not wish to smoke for extended periods. In fact, we would need to see evidence that club security are regulating how long customers are spending on the smoking terrace. We should not be making assumptions about what may or may not be problematic for the local residents. It would be responsible for the BCC and the applicant to be sure of this before granting planning application rather than dealing with problems after the premises is in use.
Ø Restricting the use of the smoking terrace to before 10:30pm will result in smokers congregating at the front of the building, further impacting on the safety of the women passing by the area, where they will be more vulnerable to verbal and perhaps physical violence. Again, this will have an impact on women’s freedom of movement in the city.

Objections to the lap dancing club on moral grounds

• It is stated on page 5 that “it must be borne in mind that, although the proposal for a lap dancing club is considered offensive by many, that moral objections are not a material planning consideration.”
Ø This assumes that the objections against the use of the premises as a lap dancing club deem them to be offensive on moral grounds. This is a common confusion used to portray those who protest against lap dancing clubs as ‘prudes’ or ‘uptight’. I do not object on moral grounds, but on social ones. I object to the impact these clubs have on women, men and communities.
Ø Lap dancing clubs in residential areas and on high streets normalises the sex industry and has damaging effects on attempts to achieve gender equality, which the Council has a duty to promote under the Gender Equality Duty.
Ø Statements are made about low key signage and blacked out windows. This is disingenuous. It is the effect that these establishments have on a community by normalising the objectification of women. Otherwise you fall on the facile argument that what you can’t see won’t hurt you. There is also accompanying advertisement which usually gives little doubt as to what services are on offer inside the clubs.

Links between lap dancing and prostitution

• The links between lap dancing and prostitution also need to be considered.
Ø A leading licensing barrister, Philip Kolvin, commented on the Dispatches programme about lapdancing, broadcast in October 2008, that the difference between lap dancing and prostitution was the width of a pair of jeans. The programme filmed undercover in lap dancing clubs up and down the country and prostitution was on offer in nearly every single one, some on the premises and some off.
Ø Although page 5 of the summary documentation states that lap dancing is legal, prostitution currently is not. However both anecdotal and statistical evidence supports the claim that touching does indeed happen in these clubs and what’s more, are considered the norm precisely because the women have to pay to work, then need to compete with the other women to earn tips and payments from the customers.
Ø One of the clubs featured in the programme, the Capricorn Club in London, was shut down in November of this year after a police operation exposed it as being a brothel. Large amounts of cocaine were also found on the premises.
Ø A common practice is for club owners to have high dancer to customer ratios so that customers have a choice of girls. This increases competition between dancers, particularly as they are already in debt to the club through just walking through the door, and can further blur the line between lap dancing and prostitution.
Impact on public safety

• Page 9 states that “there is little available evidence to support that there would be reduction in public safety in the vicinity”. I strongly disagree with this statement. I have already quoted examples of widespread sexual harassment linked to the proliferation of lap dancing clubs in the city.
Ø I like to point your attention to Durham, where a lap dancing club licence was turned down on the basis that the lap dancing club could only increase sexual assaults against women and hence that the licensing was in conflict with the aims of the Sexual Violence and Abuse Action Plan published by the Government in April 2007. In the Durham case, the applicant, Vimac Leisure was asked during cross examination how they would deal with any “inappropriate touching” of the dancers. They stated that the customer in question would be ejected from the club. However, this ignores the fact that a criminal incident has taken place for which the perpetrator should be reported to the police and, where possible, brought to justice for their offence. This normalisation of the sex industry is therefore blurring the lines between what is legal (lap dancing) and illegal (prostitution/sexual harassment). The magistrates in the case turned down the application and concluded that they considered “that many of the objections were made not on moral grounds but reflected real and practical concerns”.
Ø In the Holsopple report, published in 1999, 100% of the 18 strippers surveyed had been sexually assaulted by customers. The Eden report, published for the Eaves Housing Project in 2007 states that: “wherever lapdance and strip clubs appear, women’s quality of life deteriorates as a result, with increased reports of rape (Eden, 2003) and increased fear of travelling as a result. (TfL, 2004)”
Ø The Lilith report, published in 2003, highlighted the extensive impact that lapdance and striptease clubs had upon women in the local area of Camden, Westminster and Islington, in terms of immediate dangers such as a 50% increase in reported rape, but also in terms of less measurable effects, such as increased harassment and fear of violence.
Ø I would argue therefore that, contrary to the statement made on page 9, there is much evidence to support that there would be a significant impact on the safety of women both inside and outside of the club. The Council has a duty to promote gender equality and to reduce violence against women and it would therefore be irresponsible of the Council to grant an application unless they were absolutely convinced that there would be no impact on women living and working in the area. It would, in fact, be betraying their legal obligation to uphold the gender equality duty.
Ø Lap dancing clubs have also been linked to an increase in sexual violence towards women in the surrounding area, sex trafficking, as well as prostitution and drugs.

In summary, if you are truly serious about regenerating Old Market, lets bring businesses there that don’t encourage sexual objectification, don’t leave women feeling vulnerable and afraid to walk down the street, don’t normalise the sex industry and don’t isolate 50% of the population. Lets see new bars, restaurants, youth projects, galleries, shops – places that are welcoming and open to all and will have a real impact on making Old Market a safer place for local residents and Bristolians.

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