Bristol will never be a fair and equal city while Sexual Entertainment Venues exist here

Bristol Women’s Commission was founded almost a decade ago to embed women’s equality into decision making in the city. We want Bristol to be a fair and equal city where women can live their lives free from male violence, valued for who they are, not how they perform for men.

In recent weeks, we’ve witnessed regressive policy changes, such as Roe v Wade in the US, that roll back women’s rights and prevent women’s equality. Bristol had a chance today to implement a progressive local policy that furthers women’s rights, move us closer towards achieving women’s equality and could pave the way for more councils to follow suit.

Our support for a nil-cap – a position shared by the Mayor, Police Crime Commissioner, MPs and many others – is grounded in tackling the sexist attitudes and behaviours that lead to male violence and prevent women’s equality. Our position is based on evidence that shows the link between strip clubs, the sexual objectification and male entitlement they promote and profit from and the epidemic of male violence we are in the midst of. It’s informed by contributions from gender violence experts and women’s rights organisations; with input from sex trade survivors, sexual assault survivors and women too scared to go out alone in Bristol City Centre at night.

Despite how it’s been framed by the sex industry, this is not about workers’ rights, but women’s rights. Adopting a nil-cap approach is not anti-worker, but anti-sexism. Something has gone wrong when we’re telling women that paying to work in strip clubs is the answer to the cost of living crisis. We are not telling that to men. Strip clubs open the door to sex selling for young women and sex buying for young men. The clubs recruit women as the product and men as the consumer. They are sexist and stand in the way of women’s equality. The Local Authority should not be facilitating this. In continuing to license strip clubs, Bristol City Council’s Licensing Committee is complicit in this sexism. 

Licensed SEVs don’t cut demand for underground sexual entertainment, they fuel it. The owners of Bristol’s strip clubs market women as sexual entertainment to men through a range of ‘services’, including strippergrams. The existence of licensed clubs in our city centre opens the door to sex buying to men who would otherwise not seek it out. It sends clear messages about women’s position in society compared to men’s and legitimises the buying and selling of women’s bodies for men’s sexual gratification.

Locally, there have been notable efforts to tackle the sexist culture that underpins male violence, including the Never Have I Ever campaign by Bristol University students, yet strip clubs remain unhindered at the heart of this harmful culture. We must change what we can, when we can. Today, the Licensing Committee had the power to say no to venues which exploit women and prop up the sexist culture that leads to male violence – it chose not to. Bristol will never be a fair and equal city while licensed SEVs exist.

A version of this statement was first submitted to Bristol City Council’s Licensing Committee ahead of its decision to reject a nil-cap approach to the licensing of Sexual Entertainment Venues in Bristol. Read our response to the decision here.

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