Sheffield City Council’s Licensing Committee looked a little scared last month, as dozens of people trooped in to oppose an application to open a Villa Mercedes lapdancing club on Suffolk Road, near The Leadmill.

The applicant, Leeds businessman Andreas Baskoutas, sat impassively next to his barrister. If he thought a ‘gentlemen’s club’ would slip quietly into the Cultural Industries Quarter, he didn’t see what was coming. There was protest from all sides, including an excellent presentation from the Zero Option group, which had publicised the application by leafleting.

Lapdancing clubs exploit vulnerable women with working practices that are beyond medieval. The dancers are self-employed and only ‘paid’ with tips from leering customers. Clubs can actually charge them to work, and apply ‘fines’ for petty reasons until they’re in a spiral of debt. Despite a ‘no touching’ rule, women are molested, as in a Villa Mercedes club in Harrogate, which was closed down following repeated failures to follow the law. The Sheffield applicant claimed there was no connection, but doubt was cast on this claim. The saddest part of one study was the response to the question: How do dancers prepare for their night’s work? They drink alcohol, to get themselves through the ordeal.

Research shows that most women feel threatened and uncomfortable in public spaces around lapdancing clubs, compromised by the use of sexualised imagery. They reinforce negative, outdated and dangerous gender stereotypes and behaviours, affecting not only those who enter, but also the surrounding environment. Suffolk Road is an area used by hundreds of students, college and school pupils and vulnerable people. Speaker after speaker feared it taking on an atmosphere of harassment and violence against women, girls and LGBTQ people, with men cruising the area expecting to find prostitutes.

A previous Villa Mercedes on Charter Row in Sheffield was declared insolvent. Their website indicates that heavy drinking was encouraged and an ugly, anti-social attitude was clear in the marketing of ‘packages’, giving reasons to attend like ‘Your Mother-in-Law passing away (RIP)’ and ‘Your girlfriend being on that time of the month’. Classy.

After three hours of protesters’ presentations, the applicant’s barrister announced the withdrawal of the application. He apologised for sloppy mistakes on the form, including wrongly giving day-time opening hours rather than night-time, which had scared children. His client claimed not to have realised that the location was wrong and felt hurt by the criticisms, as a ‘family man’ whose wife was also involved in the business.

This application should have been a non-starter, if the Council used its power to prohibit all such venues. High Courts have upheld decisions to limit the number of SEV venues, including a challenge to Leeds City Council. Spearmint Rhino on nearby Brown Street will face protests when it next tries to renew its licence. Focusing on a single gender or sexuality and promoting sex as a commodity does not fit with Sheffield City Council’s slogan of ‘Everyone Matters’. Equality should be taken seriously. An exploitative industry, derogatory to women, creating an atmosphere of exploitation and harassment should have no place here – or anywhere.

zerooptionblog.wordpress.com
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