As part of the Policing and Crime legislation coming into effect 6 April 2010 in England and Wales, places offering lap dancing are reclassified as sexual entertainment venues, giving local authorities more power to control the number and location. This licensing category was heretofore called sex encounter establishments (yes, a strange name), and lap dancing clubs were not included. Being included means having to apply and go through the bureaucratic procedure to get a licence. Note this law applies only to England and Wales.
If there is going to be licensing of sex establishments at all, then lap dancing venues fit the description:
‘Sexual entertainment venue’ means any premises at which relevant entertainment is provided before a live audience for the financial gain of the organiser or the entertainer. ‘Relevant entertainment’ means (a) any live performance; or (b) any live display of nudity which is of such a nature that, ignoring financial gain, it must reasonably be assumed to be provided solely or principally for the purpose of sexually stimulating any member of the audience (whether by verbal or other means).
A separate issue is whether the licensing process will make it too difficult for these places to open and operate legally, meaning that people who work in them lose a way to make money. The usual objections are that a) lap dancing is disgusting or pornographic and b) lap dancing promotes prostitution. As far as disgusting goes, that’s an opinion not shared by everyone. As far as prostitution goes, any situation can become the opportunity for one person to offer another one money for sex. Patrons of lap dancing venues come for the lap dancing; if they are definitely out for another kind of sexual experience they can get it more directly. Part of getting the licence for a sexual business in the UK involves providing bouncers, security cameras and rules like keeping a metre’s distance between customers and dancers. On the other hand, drinking and watching pretty bodies increase the chances that men will proposition women – just as they do at dance venues, bars and private parties.
In crusades against the sex industry, the testimonies of individuals who hated their involvement, felt degraded and powerless, play a big role. Without diminishing the truth or importance of those testimonies, one must note that not everyone feels that way by a long shot. The following statement of one lapdancer’s experience comes from the ECP (English Collective of Prostitutes):
I’ve worked all around the country. I do three minute dances which cost the guys £10. I pay towards the cost of the venue, security and the DJ; after that, whatever I earn is my own. We work as a collective and prioritise safety. We have a good support network of door and bar staff. Someone always knows where I am. I take a lot of responsibility for the new girls as I’ve been around a long time.
I can earn £250 for four hours. Worse case, I walk out with £50 and that’s still more than I would earn in a day job at £5 an hour. Nine out of 10 women turn to prostitution or lap dancing because there’s not enough money to survive. I work with students, mothers and all kinds of other women. Recently my mum couldn’t afford a pair of school shoes for my brother and sister. When I worked a day job I couldn’t help her, but now I can. If the government is offended by the work we do, then give us the financial means to get out of the industry.
There is no pressure to have sex with men, only opportunities. I could go to a nightclub and have 10 times more of an opportunity to sleep with a man than I do in my workplace. In any case, if I want to have sex with a man and if he wants to pay me, then so what. If I had kids and sleeping with a man for money meant my children could have food in their mouths, I would do it. And tell me one woman that wouldn’t.
I haven’t met any women who were forced to work in clubs. Some women from other countries come here for salvation and help because it is terrible for them back home.
They say we are degrading ourselves. Actually no. The issue is what kind of protection we get from the police and courts. My friend was raped in a supermarket carpark. Some one very close to me was abused as a child. The cases got thrown out of court.
If you bring in more regulations and criminalize the sex industry, you make it harder for women to work. Girls can’t insist on good working conditions or their rights. The industry will go underground and it will be much worse.