Page last updated at 18:05 GMT, Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Lap dancers object to 'sex' label

Lap dancers
These lap dancers do not want to be classified as sex workers

Angry lap dancers have taken part in a protest against government plans to reclassify them as sex workers.

Campaigners against the clubs want them to be relabelled as 'sex encounter establishments' and say councils should be given more control over them.

But the Lap Dancing Association, which represents a third of the industry's clubs, claims this would stigmatise performers.

Its members say sexual activity does not take place in regulated clubs.

On Tuesday, lap dancers Lynsey Catt, Sian Wilshaw, Katherine Martinez, and Sharon Warneford presented a petition with nearly 3,000 signatures to Number 10 Downing Street, on behalf of the association.

'No sexual activity'

If the clubs are reclassified as "sex encounter establishments", like sex shops and blue cinemas, it would cost the owners far more money to obtain a licence and they would be far more tightly regulated.

But the association claims that there is no need for this to happen.

Its members said no sexual activity was offered for sale in their clubs and their businesses were already controlled under the Licensing Act 2003.

They said they are subject to numerous policies which regulated their activity and the reclassification was unnecessary.

Elaine Reed, a spokeswoman for the Spearmint Rhino Gentlemen's Clubs chain, said: "The workers within our industry are absolutely horrified that the Government are trying to rebrand us as part of the sex industry.

The feeling is that if these changes are made the whole face of the industry will change, and not for the better
Elaine Reed, Spearmint Rhino

"It's quite clear we are not part of the sex industry, we never have been and we don't intend to be.

"Our clubs are controlled; there's no sexual activity going on."

She said any changes would be detrimental to the industry and it would not be fair for lap dancers to be labelled as sex workers.

"They will leave the industry because they don't want that tag. The feeling is that if these changes are made the whole face of the industry will change, and not for the better," she said.

The change was first proposed by Roberta Blackman-Woods, a backbench Labour MP, who was concerned about the number of clubs opening in her constituency in Durham.

The Conservative party and the Home Office both carried out separate consultations on how to change the law.


Under the current regulations, plans for lap dancing clubs in England and Wales are treated little differently from those for restaurants, coffee shops or ordinary bars.

Clubs need a premises licence, giving them permission to sell alcohol, and any objections made to the local authority must fall under strict categories.

A Home Office spokesman said it was looking into the matter and intended to introduce changes to the the law at some point in the future.

The protest comes the same day that women's rights campaign groups, the Fawcett Society and Object, are holding a public meeting aimed at intensifying support for their campaign for the proposals to go ahead.


The Home Office has said the law will be changed

They are backed by the Local Government Association (LGA) which said local democracy was being undermined by the "loophole in licensing laws" when it came to lap dancing clubs.

The LGA's deputy chairman, Richard Kemp, said: "The law as it stands does not allow councils to consider the type of entertainment being provided or any concerns about the impact it may have on surrounding homes and businesses.

"Parents' concerns about their children, or neighbours' concerns about links to prostitution and other crime, should not be ruled out on technical grounds.

"It's a loophole which needs closing as soon as possible.

"Local democracy depends on people being able to voice their opinions, and on councils being able to consider those views.

"Our towns and cities should be shaped as far as possible according to residents' wishes, not by the presence of unwanted lap dancing clubs in the heart of them."

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