Harrogate Feminists

What sort of tourism does HBC wish to promote?

The consultation period on SEV licencing has officially closed, but we heard that you could submit questions up to 2 days before the date of the meeting – so here is the text of an email we sent them on Tuesday. It was a bit more rushed than our original letter for the formal consultation, but we hope it might have some effect…

Dear Harrogate Borough Council Licencing Committee,
With regards to the sexual entertainment venue (SEV) licensing consultation, we wished to draw the attention of the Committee to the policy currently being proposed by Hackney Council, which is amongst a handful of councils proposing a “nil” policy on SEVs licensing. They have produced a leaflet explaining why they feel this policy would be appropriate to their particular borough. One of their reasons is the concerns of Hackney Council about the pressures on its young people “to engage in behaviour that might make them vulnerable to others”, and the potential role of SEVs in adding to these pressures. We feel that the indirect effects of SEVs on young people are under-recognised and this is because the focus of the debate has been largely on the women who work there, which is a rather narrow view of the problem. The presence of SEVs affects the whole town.
Harrogate has a long and proud history of tourism, which is a vital part of the local economy. Now, however, it seems also to be becoming something of a mecca for sex tourism. A Google search of the words “harrogate lap dancing”, which I performed today, identified a posting on a car enthusiasts’ forum entitled “York Stag Do” dating from last summer (http://www.pistonheads.com/gassing/topic.asp?t=721166). The original poster, who is due to go on a stag night in York, enquires “whether there are any decent lapdancing clubs in York”, followed by a lip-licking emoticon. Of the replies, there are two separate suggestions that the stag party should take the train over to Harrogate, purely on the basis of what Harrogate has to offer in the way of SEVs. As a woman I would not have liked to share a train carriage with that stag party discussing their experiences on the way back to York.
While there is no suggestion that the poster in this example is himself a sex tourist, it does illustrate that Harrogate is beginning to get a name for itself in certain circles that tends to attract stag parties from elsewhere. Places that attract stag parties tend to suffer unduly from alcohol-related violence, including sexual violence against women.
For example, it is well-documented that British stag parties have fuelled the sex industry in Central Europe, resulting in the exploitation of many of the most vulnerable women, many of whom are themselves immigrants and unable to exercise free choice in their work (http://womensgrid.freecharity.org.uk/?p=4466). This trend is reflected in the UK; after Maxim named Tenby as one of the world’s best locations for stag weekends, there was a spate of serious sexual assaults and all local police could do was to “warn women to be vigilant” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/2117892.stm. “Vigilance” on the part of women, of course, will do nothing to prevent this, because sexual harrassment and violence against women is not actually the victims’ fault.
Is this the sort of tourism Harrogate Borough Council now wishes to promote? How will this affect girls and women who live in and around Harrogate and have no choice as to whether to walk past these venues, or whether they happen to attract the attention of stag parties on the street or in bars?
If Harrogate decides not to follow the example of Hackney to propose a “nil policy” on SEVs, we would ask why it would put the commercial interests of the sex industry above the well-being of local girls and women.
In short, we would ask the Licensing Committee of Harrogate Borough Council to look carefully at the image of Harrogate it wishes to promote and the type of tourism it welcomes.


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