To Cllr Chris Kennedy,
Friday, 25 October 2010
Request for appointment
Re: Consultation on Licensing Sex Establishments in Hackney
My name is Thierry Schaffauser. I am a resident of Queensbridge Ward, Hackney and a member of the Labour party. I have been a sex worker for 8 years and I am currently president of the GMB- Sex workers & Adult Entertainment branch.
I am writing to you regarding the potential ‘nil policy’ that the Hackney council plans to adopt against all adult venues. I fear that such a policy would have a disastrous impact on the workers who currently work in these venues, either (a) suffering more exploitative conditions due to their workplace moving underground or (b) losing their jobs. On the contrary, the new legal powers under the Police and Crime Act 2009 provide Hackney Council, for the first time, with the opportunity to condition the renewal of licenses upon criteria that would improve the safety and conditions for the workers.
A ‘nil policy’ will result in more exploitative conditions due to the workplace being driven underground
We know that currently one sex shop and 4 lap dancing clubs are licensed by the council but we ignore the number of those who currently operate without licensing. My concern is that the ‘nil policy’ will not help to identify the unlicensed venues but simply increase their number. I t will create the same problems we already face with most brothels in London which remain illegal but tolerated because there are no means to effectively close them all down, with simple market forces ensuring their continuation. In fact, a prohibitionist policy often only generates the dispersion of the working places every 6 months as a result of police raids. Sex working continues to operate but just under less regulated conditions and in a more unstable environment.
The loss of Jobs
Instead of a prohibitionist approach I urge you to listen to what sex workers have to say.
Many of them are students or single mothers and can’t afford to lose a job that provide them a relative better income than the ‘regular’ jobs available to them for a relative reduced amount of time working. The planned government austerity measures, with a decrease in child care, training and job opportunities, would exacerbate the pain felt by those sex workers who become unemployed.
Improvement of Conditions
On the contrary, the council could use its new legal power to condition the renewal of licenses to improve safety and working conditions for the workers. The stigma and violence associated with sex work is often, erroneously, considered as intrinsically being the result of sex work itself rather than the conditions in which sex work is exercised.
The GMB-Sex workers & Adult entertainment branch could collaborate with the council to set up a list of rules for the adult venues to adopt and respect so they can continue to exist legally. If they didn’t, their licenses could be terminated. We could also help the council to identify the unlicensed venues and encourage them to respect the new regulation so they don’t risk police raids anymore.
I believe that the adult venues must ensure better practices to guarantee safety, a regular working contract with wages and labour rights for the workers and a non-exploitative working environment. So far, the lack of regulation has allowed many venues to impose their own rules to the workers in their self-interest. The council should oblige them to open their doors for regular visits and monitoring from the trade union, councillors, the police and other organisations.
In terms of safety, the police should be trained to receive reports from the workers of the venues who currently don’t feel that they can trust them. The venues should be forced to inform the workers about their rights and the different services available to them as well as giving them contact to a respectful and non-judgmental police officer who could specifically act regarding potential violence or misbehaviour inside the venues. The venues must also always guarantee workers’ protection against any potential disrespectful customers. The council should work with the lap dancing venues to develop its future policy and to pressure the adult venues for better practices. A ‘nil policy’ would mean that the council has no idea or control about what’s going on in the venues, only the satisfaction of pretending they don’t exist anymore.
Achieving aspiration for Hackney AND better working conditions for sex workers
Having read Hackney’s ‘Draft sex Establishment Licensing Policy’ I understand the Council’s preliminary view that lap dancing establishments does not fit with its strategic ‘aspirational’ vision for the borough. However, is it not the challenge of any Labour administration and the cornerstone of our Party’s values that we strive for aspiration, but never knowingly to the detriment of those least socially and economically privlidged? The proposed policy not only fails to take advantage of possibility of improving conditions but is actively regressive, displacing sex workers and subjecting them to more exploitative conditions. On the contrary, I would suggest that effectively licensed lap dancing venues, far from being incompatible with Hackney’s strategic vision, would compliment it, improving the health, safety and working conditions within the borough.
In order to make these changes happen, we need the council to support Hackney adult venues workers, to meet them and learn from their experiences and demands. I can facilitate these meetings with some of the workers I am in contact with through my union branch. Would the licensing Committee be prepared to meet with my colleagues and me so that you can hear our concerns and suggestions?