I’ve just come back from speaking at an event titled “Lap Dancing, Liberation or Exploitation” with other speakers including Kat Baynard, Ruhana Ali from Telco and Sarah Castro from Poplar Harca, chaired by independent Cllr Rania Khan.
At the core of the event were local women, of different identities and from different backgrounds, saying clearly and emphatically that we do not want strip clubs and lap dancing establishments to be licensed to operate in Tower Hamlets.
For me, sex establishments are one small symptom of a much wider faultline in our society. The operation of control of women’s bodies and commodification of women’s sexuality are a symptom of gendered power inequalities. I’m glad that the Labour government gave people the ability to say no to sex establishments in their area through granting powers to local authorities through licensing, and I hope that we make use of that power in Tower Hamlets. If we’re serious about this, though, there is far more we need to do. We must properly fund work that helps women exit the sex industry, we must do all we can to tackle child sexual abuse – many women in the sex industry were sexually abused as children – and we must properly fund and support work that deals with domestic violence.
One argument set out tonight was that banning things isn’t right, and that our families and communities should be strong enough to resist the damage that might be done by a lap dancing club on the corner. This misses the point. I don’t buy liberal arguments in these circumstances – I got elected to use the power of the state for the betterment of the people I represent, not to stand out of the way when things get controversial. Equally, the lap dancing club isn’t the sole source of the problem, it’s a symptom, but if we are serious about campaigning for equality for women and girls, it’s a symptom that we must treat.
Please do respond to the consultation – it is important.