Highland councillors confirmed that they will not place any cap on the number of sex entertainment venues (SEVs) that can operate in the area.
It follows strong criticism from NHS Highland, who called on the council to “show leadership” and set a zero cap on SEVs.
But at a meeting on Monday, industry representatives and dancers at Inverness’ Private Eyes club hit back.
Janet Hood spoke on behalf of her clients, Private Eyes and the Association of Adult Entertainment Venues in Scotland.
Ms Hood says her client has run SEVs all over Scotland for 21 years. They have never had any issues with violence, sexual assault, prostitution or human trafficking.
“They run safe venues where girls come to dance, and their dancers are admired by both men and women who go to their clubs,” said Ms Hood.
She added that the club already offers many of the safeguards required by the licensing policy. For example, there’s a toolkit to keep dancers safe, codes of conduct, private changing spaces and security stewards.
Ms Hood took aim at the statistics provided by NHS Highland in its damning response to the council’s public consultation. The health protection team and Violence Against Women group had provided research showing strong links between SEVs and domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking.
However, Ms Hood said much of the research was out of date – some of it by 30 years.
“This is ancient information,” she said.
“People who are going to comment to you as serious commentators must take account of the actuality of the industry.”
A representative of United Sex Workers backed up this point, saying that a zero cap does not protect dancers. In fact, cities that have banned SEVs – including Chester, Exeter and Swansea – now have more sexual assaults.
The speakers warned that any cap would only push the industry underground, introducing greater dangers.
Ms Hood said that after one quick internet search, she could order a woman to her home, without a steward.
“Were I a young woman wanting to dance I’d be far better doing it in a safe, well regulated club… where I didn’t have somebody hanging about in the corridor of an Air BnB or goodness knows where else, waiting to take my money and exploit me,” she said.
Imogen Taylor, a dancer at Private Eyes club, thanked the committee for not restricting SEVs.
However, she asked for changes to the policy wording, which in some places referred to SEVs as “sex establishments”.
The council officers said they would correct the wording.
Councillors voted unanimously to forge ahead with licensing sex entertainment venues and no cap will be put in place.
The policy will now go out for final public consultation.
“This is a common sense approach to licensing and providing safeguards to what is a legitimate business, and making sure as much of it as possible is carried out in these kinds of venues,” said chairman Andrew Jarvie.