Strip club workers staged a protest outside Bristol Town Hall on Tuesday over controversial plans to shut down the city’s two main sexual entertainment venues (SEVs).
Campaigners say more than 100 jobs will be lost if the council’s licensing committee goes ahead with a proposal to withdraw licences for Central Chambers and Urban Tiger.
Women who work in the two clubs, along with members of the campaign group Bristol Sex Workers Collective, organised a photoshoot outside the town hall on Tuesday to stop the proposed ban, which was one of Mayor Marvin Rees’s 2016 election pledges.
The Mayor said he had listened to feminist campaigners and organisations like Bristol’s Fawcett Society, which have long campaigned for a ban on strip clubs and sexual entertainment venues.
Critics say they objectify women and claim they are part of a society which facilitates violence against women.
But the women who work in the clubs say neither the council nor the Fawcett Society have published evidence of this and insist they feel safe at work.
Amélie, a dancer at Urban Tiger, told Bristol Live: ‘I feel safer at Urban Tiger walking around in my underwear than I do anywhere else fully clothed.
‘CCTV cameras cover every inch of the club, and the door staff are always close by to ensure we’re safe, and any problematic individual can be removed from the premises immediately.’
The decision will be made by the council’s licensing committee, which put the issue out to consultation a month ago.
Mayor Reeves said he has no control over what happens but backs the idea of closing down the clubs. ‘
Yes, I said in 2016 after having a number of women’s organisations talk to me at the time and lobby me that I was supportive of that position,’ the Mayor said last month.
‘But it is important to say this is a licensing decision.
‘It is not something I’m in control of or have been able to control over the last five years. It will be up to the way they vote that will determine the future of our licensing and SEVs.’
Bristol’s Sex Workers Collective (SWC) said it ‘stands in solidarity’ with the dancers.
A spokeswoman said: ‘They have not only had to endure a pandemic without employment, but now face the prospect of being forced into unemployment without alternative, and without reason.
‘Bristol’s Licensing Committee has yet to reach out to engage with the club’s workers, and workers’ attempts to clarify the future of their jobs has been met with, at best, silence and at worse, total dismissal.
’ SWC said Bristol Council have an opportunity to ‘follow in the footsteps’ of other local authorities that have ‘progressive’ policies on strip clubs, such as Camden and Westminster in London, where the focus is on ‘experiences and rights of the workers’.
But they said the debate in Bristol has ‘turned into an opportunity for a puritanical and misogynistic minority to blame women, in particular sex workers, for the violence of men’.
The campaigners point out that in 2019, a previous public consultation in Bristol ended with a sizeable majority – 60%- backing the existing licensing arrangement, which allowed for two sexual entertainment venues in the city centre, and another in Old Market, although that is not currently taken up.
Despite that public backing just two years ago, the issue has been brought back to the licensing committee.
‘It seems Bristol City Council is not going to accept any other answer from its residents apart from the one it wants to receive,’ a campaign spokesperson said.
‘There is a clear lack of evidence that directly links Bristol’s sexual entertainment venues to increased incidents of violence against women and girls, and the Fawcett Society as well as Bristol City Council refuse to share their own evidence and sources, despite our requests.
‘By listening to the opinions of anti-feminist organisations such as The Fawcett Society, over the voices of the women working inside the clubs, Bristol City Council risk setting a dangerous precedent that only women they deem acceptable are worthy of rights.
‘Moreover, it is not the council’s role to decide what women can and cannot do with their bodies.’
A Bristol City Council spokesperson said: ‘The council’s licensing committee developed a draft policy that could lead to the removal of the existing licensed Sexual Entertainment Venues (SEVs) in the city which will go to a public consultation this summer.
Following the consultation, the policy would go back to the Licensing Committee for a final decision. ‘At this stage no decision has been made and all formal decisions will rest with the Licensing Committee.
After 10 years without revision, we believe it is important Bristol now has a conversation about the best approach to take.’