The definition of a sexual entertainment venue is any venue which provides a display or performance of nudity to such an extent that one can only assume it is for the sexual stimulation and entertainment of its audience. Here, audience is defined as one or more persons.
Objection to Renewal of License for Sexual Entertainment Venue
This is our objection to the renewal of a license for the sexual entertainment venue (SEV) Elegance in Portsmouth. Our view on the licensing of sexual entertainment venues remains the same as they have since we fought alongside other residents in the city for a ‘Nil Cap’ in 2012.
The Council’s own SEV policy states: “that there is no place within the City of Portsmouth of which it could be said that it was situated in a locality in which it would be appropriate to licence a sex establishment”. We understand that this decision was then subsequently amended in private by the licensing committee in 2012:
The draft SEV Policy
The draft SEV policy as set out ‘Option 2’:
Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 7.10 (relating to the numerical control on the number of sex establishments in a particular locality) the presumption to refuse shall not apply to:
- The renewal or variation of an existing sex establishment license; or
- The grant of a new sex establishment licence, whereby an application was made during the transitional period 1 November 2011 until 31 October 2012 to those premises that can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Licensing Authority that during the 12 months prior to the commencement of the transitional period they have been regularly providing sexual entertainment that previously was only regulated under the Licensing Act 2003.
The NIL Cap
At the time of the Nil Cap introduction, we understood this to mean, in layman’s terms, that in effect, a nil cap was introduced, however this did not apply to clubs with an existing license or those licensed and active in the period described. This is in direct contradiction to the previous decision and we lodged our complaint about this in 2012.
Sexual Entertainment Venues, Austerity, and the Pandemic
We are now in nine years on and austerity has taken its toll on our city, this is set to increase with the pandemic. Our previous comments objections remain. By renewing or allowing the licencing of SEVs in the city the committee is advocating that in times of economic hardship, it is acceptable and expedient for the local authority to rely on the commodification of female residents to generate income. This is difficult to accept at the best of times, but again, it is even harder to understand given the Council’s previous consultation, policy and decision on the licensing of SEVs.
The link between sexual objectification and violence against women
Our organisation works every day with the end result of socially entrenched sexism, namely domestic abuse and sexual violence. In the national and international women’s sector of which we are an active part, there is no doubt that the sexual objectification of women – as practiced in SEVs, for example – is directly linked to the incidence of sexual and domestic violence. To be clear, this is not a matter of opinion or conjecture. The link between the objectification of women and discrimination and violence towards women is recognised at an international level by the legally binding United Nations Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women, which repeatedly calls upon states – including the UK government – to take action against the objectification of women.
The normalisation of porn culture and the objectification of women as a sex class is apparent every day in our society. As members of the End Violence Against Women Coalition it is of note to refer to their recent research which evidences “that girls face intolerable levels of harassment in schools on a daily basis. Access to pornography while at school is commonplace and nude images are traded like football stickers. Outside the classroom, abuse of women and girls continues at alarming rates in our society: two women are killed each week by partners or former partners, almost half a million rapes and sexual assaults happen each year in England and Wales.”
We are also encouraged and empowered by survivor campaigners like Sammy Woodhouse, a victim of the Rotherham child rape scandal and previous lap dancer who is calling for lap dancing clubs to be shut down due to her experience:
“I’m calling on council officials to actually go in and find out for themselves how these clubs are actually being run. When they are going in they’re finding these clubs are not safe at all, there is a lot of criminal activity going on and it’s something that needs to be shut down once and for all. I’ve lost count how many times myself and other people were sexually assaulted – that happens on a nightly basis. What you’re told is “you’re a lap dancer you’ve got to expect this”. No one should ever be expected to be touched, groped or assaulted. I know girls that have been drugged and raped. It’s almost as if the clubs are grooming the girls to think that the people who work in these clubs are like a tight family network and that they care about the girls, that they’re one big happy family…Essentially, they’re selling women – we’re in 2018 and people think it’s alright to go buy a woman for whatever sexual need it is? Do we want little girls growing up to be a lifeline for lonely old men? It’s exploitation”.
It is not just our view that these places are detrimental to the women – there is overwhelming evidence of this:
Please see here for further evidence. Also view this link which includes testimonies from former lap dancers and expert statements. In addition to this you can view the research on the issue. There is also evidence of a huge list of incidences at clubs UK-wide.
The illegalities of the renewal
We also point to the objections based on the illegalities of this renewal, laid out by our partners at Not Buying It:
- Your policy states there is NO location where a strip club is appropriate (7.10). Licensing this strip club means you are automatically breaching your own policy – a policy which was widely consulted on by the public (the tax payers you are were voted in to represent).
This club clearly is in a highly inappropriate locality. It is next to 2 schools and a church. The area is also rife with vulnerable adults and multi-occupancy dwellings. Women have told you at previous hearings that they are harassed outside it, which clearly effects their ability to use the area comfortably, if at all.
It’s location is in clear breach of what is deemed suitable in your policy at 7.11d), 7.14 and 7.15. In fact your policy explicitly states that strip clubs will normally be refused if close to places of worship, children’s centres or similar (7.15).
There have been two successful High Court cases against Sheffield City Council for failing to abide by equality law in its pro-strip industry stance. This included not acknowledging the impact of strip venues on equality in terms of the local area or on wider society. Portsmouth is equally liable to, costly, legal challenge.
Your policy states that ‘the presumption to refuse does not apply to existing clubs’. This simply reiterates SEV case law that ‘regard’ must be given to the fact that a license is already held. No more. However the council appears to be wrongfully interpreting this to mean ‘existing clubs cannot be refused’. Such an interpretation is unlawful and a breach of SEV legislation. This has been confirmed by Judges and other legal experts:
Pre-existing clubs cannot be treated differently from new applicants:
“Parliament has drawn no distinction between grant and renewal of an SEV licence .. To make a distinction would fetter the discretion of the local authority in cases of renewal, which Parliament has not done”.
- Councils have sweeping powers to refuse to relicense on the grounds of locality. This is regardless of any change in locality or any other material changes whatsoever. This has been widely confirmed by case law, judges and other experts. Furthermore, operators have no legal grounds to challenge such a decision. Those that do must go to the High Court, a very difficult route. None have ever succeeded. Frequently the case is instantly dismissed without being heard.
Pre-existing venues can be refused a license:
‘licensing authorities are entitled to ‘have a fresh look’ and may refuse to relicense ‘even where there has been no material change in circumstances” Kolvin, QC et al
When representing local residents at the relicensing hearing of a Chester club Philip Kolvin, QC, confirmed: ‘this year’s committee is entitled to come to a different conclusion from last years’ and ‘merely the fact that a number of people are concerned justifies refusal’. The license was successfully refused on the grounds of inappropriate locality.
[Philip Kolvin, QC, is the legal authority on SEV licensing – he wrote the legislation.]
Nothing prevents a council from refusing to re-licence an existing venue:
“… the statute imposes no constraint upon a Local Authority’s discretion when it is considering a renewal … In my judgement it is not perverse to refuse a renewal where there is no change in the character of the relevant locality or in the use to which any premises in the locality are put.”
R v Birmingham City Council ex parte Sheptonhurst Ltd 27 p 11 (referred to in Thompson v Oxford City Council)
Strip clubs have no legal grounds to challenge a decision not to relicense:
“If the licensing authority refuses to renew on the ground that it would be inappropriate having regard to the character of the relevant locality, it must give its reasons for refusal … If the reasons given are rational, that is to say properly relevant to the ground for refusal, then the court cannot interfere.“
Court of Appeal O’Connor 28 p12 (referred to in Thompson v Oxford City Council)
All Councils need do is give the reason why they refused:
Although it is important to give reasons for a decision to refuse, those reasons need only be sufficient to enable the losing party to know why he has lost.
In breach of policy, SEV legislation and equality law
The council is breaching its own policy, SEV legislation and equality law. This puts the council at risk of legal challenge by those who object to its strip clubs.
Please abide by your own policy and the wishes of your tax payers – the voters whom you are supposed to represent, particularly the most vulnerable. Stop re-licensing this strip club, particularly now when it is not open, cannot open for some considerable time and whose primary workers (lap dancers) have not been entitled to furlough all this time (as ‘self employed’ workers). Close this club and support its former lap dancers into safe, alternative employment and training.
“…you have to make a value judgement, that’s why you are elected.. the law states that you can refuse simply because the venue is in the wrong place…” Kolvin, QC
A request for the licensing team at Portsmouth city council
We request information from the licensing team at Portsmouth city council, including but not limited to a record of the discussions held by the committee members and the due regard and analysis applied by the members to the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty in relation to sex as a protected characteristic. It is our strongly held view that the operation of SEVs does have a negative impact on women and girls as a sex class.
Year on year we ask the council to reconsider their stance on SEVs and their operation in the city. What is the point of the council claiming they have a Nil Cap when in effect they have never actually applied this exemption? When will councillors prioritise the impact of the current SEVs and their sexual exploitation of women and girls in the city of Portsmouth?
Shonagh Dillon LLB
CEO – Aurora New Dawn
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