Should strip clubs be banned in Bristol? City council asks people for their views

Central Chambers in Bristol city centre.

A public consultation has opened which could see Bristol become one of the largest cities in the UK to ban strip clubs - a move campaigners have called "cruel and unethical".

Bristol City Council’s draft proposal for a ‘nil cap’ policy on Sexual Entertainment Venues (SEVs) would force the closure of two nightclubs - Urban Tiger and Central Chambers.

Bristol Sex Workers Collective claims it could put around 100 people out of work, but supporters of the ban argue it is a crucial move towards gender equality.

The proposals have sparked fierce debate, not just in Bristol but all over the world.

The council’s current SEV policy, which dates back to 2011, allows for two clubs in the city centre and one in Old Market/West Street.

When the clubs’ annual licensing renewal came up in 2019, a council survey on maintaining the current legislation saw two-thirds of Bristolians say they should remain open.

But there has been growing pressure in recent years to impose a 'nil cap' policy, which has been supported by mayor Marvin Rees.

What people in favour of the ban say

Public figures like Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees, former Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens, and Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire all support the proposal.

Female rights organisations in the city have also weighed in.

“At Bristol Women's Voice we strongly feel, as the research shows, that sexual entertainment venues are detrimental to the wellbeing of women and girls (and men and boys) and that a nil cap will improve women and girls' access to and experience of public city centre spaces,” said the organisation’s director Katy Taylor.

Meanwhile in a statement read out to councillors the CEO of One25 - a charity which supports women affected by sexual abuse and violence - argues SEVs make Bristol less safe for women.

"There is considerable evidence of women who work in SEVs being assaulted by male punters and this not being reported to the police, as it would threaten the business," said Anna Smith.

Urban Tiger would be impacted by the ban

“The presence of a venue which promotes the selling of sexual behaviour of men by women, promotes an unhealthy power balance in what should be an equal relationship.

“There is also evidence that being self employed in an SEV is a gateway to prostitution and that many of the workers, when interviewed after their time working in an SEV, are very damning of their experiences calling them places that “destroy people".

“The mayor has committed to a nil cap. I also write as someone who has seen evidence of the danger to members of the public, particularly women, when walking around SEVs atnight; people who leave come out and harass women passing in the street.

“I used to live at the end of a street where there was an SEV in east London and was frightened to walk past there at night.”

What people against the ban say

Bristol Sex Workers Collective, which represents sex workers in the city, denies any link between the venues and the mistreatment of women, and argues their closure could ruin livelihoods.

“Shutting the strip clubs would lead to many workers being made unemployed and having their livelihoods taken from them; including the dancers, the security staff, bar staff and managers,” a spokesperson said to the council.

“The knock-on effect on the SEVs suppliers and business networks would impact negatively on the wider economy.

“The two SEVs in Bristol are known to the police and the council for being law abiding, well-run clubs, actually causing far fewer problems than the other non-SEV establishments in the area.

In data published by Avon and Somerset Police in 2020, there were 91 reports of rape or sexual assault at licensed premises in the city centre over two years.

The top three locations for the incidents were Przym (10), OMG (9) and The O2 Academy (8). There were two reports from Urban Tiger.

Male strip group, Dreamboys, has also voiced opposition after a female dancer from Urban Tiger accused the council of hypocrisy for allowing the group’s tour to come to Bristol.

“Men are allowed to strip without any kind of licensing in the club with the highest rate of sexual assaults in Bristol,” her tweet read.

“But the council is targeting the strip clubs with female dancers, which are well-run, safe and not a source of concern for the police.

“Make that make sense.”

In response, a spokesperson for Dreamboys said: “We are totally behind you and are fervently opposed to the proposed closures and reductions in SEVL licenses. It makes zero logical sense and those in power are misguided and prejudice.”

They added: “Just to note we don’t perform fully nude in Bristol, hence don’t need a license.”

Over the next 12 weeks people in Bristol will get the chance to have their say on the proposals.