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Darren Cullen

In a 2011 legal change, local regulation of 'sexual entertainment venues' (SEVs) was widened to include lap dancing alongside sex shops. A venue selling sex toys is surely less controversial than lap dancing, but there's no obvious logic in the law. Brothels and massage parlours don't come under the same act. Even so, to many people there's a line that can be crossed.

In the city of The Full Monty, hen party or stag night fun is OK, but lap dancing is definitely over the line. It isn't prostitution. So what is it? It's capitalism using a mechanism to indoctrinate young men into the transgressive end of heterosexual machismo. Why transgressive? Because running a business which invites women to sit and dance naked on men's laps just isn't right. In the words of protest group Zero Option, "it directly discriminates against women by normalising the sexualisation and objectification of women".

Back in September, the Town Hall struggled to accommodate a huge number of objectors to a lap dancing club near The Leadmill. Speeches were heard long into the afternoon and finally the applicant withdrew his case. Later that month, surely in response to public concern, Sheffield City Council drafted an Equalities Impact Assessment as a start on producing a new Sex Establishment Policy, which hadn't been done in view of the 2011 legal change. A seven-week period from 19December was chosen for under-the-radar consultation, timed nicely with Christmas and the quiet month of January, then a second stage consultation ran for four weeks in March.

The draft policy says the Council doesn't take a moral stand on the matter in running the licensing regime. They are too modest. In fact, Zero Option's words are used. The Council "endeavour to reduce the normalisation of the sexualisation and objectification of women and men". But note the words 'and men' are added, a verbal twist giving a shine of equality but hiding the fundamental inequality involved; the dancers are all women, a huge part of why it's unacceptable.

the Council has total power to impose a zero limit on SEVs

It recommends that sex cinemas shouldn't be allowed. An easy decision, because there aren't any. Sex shops would normally be limited to one per ward. Attercliffe gets a special exemption because it has two.

Getting down to SEVs, there is only one: Spearmint Rhino. Despite protests, it was shovelled in years ago, before the new rules. So does the draft policy recommend 'thus far and no further'? No. Astonishingly it doesn't stop at one, but allows for two such venues. In other words, anticipating another one and effectively giving permission in principle. Just to make it clear, the Council has total power to impose a zero limit on SEVs. Their rationale for allowing the trade is that it may be controlled if regulated. Otherwise it could go underground and be much riskier. This argument has been applied to the legalisation of abortion, but not, say, to cannabis, so it's not clear cut.

Apart from this shock, the policy sounds fairly reasonable. There are lots of conditions built in. No 'scantily-clad' performers are allowed outside touting. They'll all be certified and trained, with CCTV and policies for everything.

Interestingly, in 2016 Spearmint Rhino applied to renew its licence in March. But this year it did so earlier, in February, despite being licensed until May. Surely they weren't seeking to get in before the new policy? In 2016, its licence was renewed despite 70 objections. The year before there were only 11. Licensing Committee meetings look set to be lively this year.

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