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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Getting the balance right

The licensing of establishments connected with sex is never an easy topic for a politician. Caught between moral outrage and those who believe that the existence of such places are a threat to women's dignity and hard-won respect, many might think that the easy option is to ban them all. That certainly seems to be the approach taken by Hackney Council this week.

Thank goodness therefore that the loudest dissenting voice is a Church of England vicar, who at least is able to get a hearing for the perfectly valid counter-view that it is not the job of politicians to "impose a moral code" on those they represent, after all adults should be able to make up their own mind.

Reverend Paul Turp of St Leonard's Church in London's Shoreditch, made his remarks after Hackney council voted last week for what it called a "nil" policy, banning any new strip venues from opening and holding out the likelihood that four existing clubs will lose their licences as they come up for renewal. The policy was approved despite more than 66 per cent of people who took part in a public consultation on the plans saying "no" to the ban.

He said that he was "hugely disappointed" with the decision, adding that it will "push the business underground, resulting in more women working dangerously on the streets" and will add to the people who turn to his church for help:

The clergyman, who provides refuge for 17 homeless people, as well as caring for alcoholics, addicts and prostitutes, said: "The council have created a problem where there wasn't one to begin with. They deliberately disregarded the views of the people."

Reverend Turp warned that, unless overturned legally, the policy was likely to lead to danger for strip club workers and disruption for members of the public: "A wretched mistake has been made. Hackney 30 years ago was a very dodgy place. I remember the struggle to get these places licensed. Now they are well run and safe."

And this is the problem with the view that these establishments degrade women and should be shut down. Whether that view is right or wrong, the reality is that many women get a good living in these clubs, where they are able to work safely.

I do not see those who are advocating a ban coming forward with alternative jobs, nor do I see any answer from them to the argument that their actions will drive the activity underground and place many more women in danger.

In these instances it is often best to regulate than to outlaw, for the sake of all parties.
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