Do strip clubs contribute to increased violence?

Updated: Sep 15, 2021

Researching the impact of a zero-cap policy.

Many of us enjoy the freedom of movement that comes with the role of stripping. While some dancers settle in a club and become as much a staple feature as the poles themselves, others, like myself, prefer a more transient way of working. While resident dancers benefit from the longevity of their time in a club by compiling regular clients, travelling dancers enjoy the rewards that come from being a fresh face and following seasonal economies to always work the busiest times in each location. It is a great shame as a travelling dancer, with a comprehensive list of safe, well regulated, enjoyable clubs that I have felt comfortable and protected working in, to find that list becoming smaller and smaller each year. It is equally frustrating for dancers who have made a club their home, surrounded by the safety and security of a work family, to be suddenly displaced, and those years of building connections and bonds snatched away from them, leaving them facing the unknown.

This reality is not just due to the inevitable instances of clubs closing of their own volition, but due to the decision of councils to zero-cap the areas in question. This happens both under the weight of pressure from extremist anti-sex work organisations, and as a result of gentrification regimes that place blame on our industry for problems relating to social disorder. Our clubs become the target as a ‘quick fix’ solution to assuage public fear relating to the night-time economy, and demonstrate that the relevant authorities are ‘doing something’ about the country-wide cultural problem of anti-social behaviour and alcohol-related violence, particularly violence against women. In Bristol and Blackpool particularly, the objection to licence renewals and the push for a zero-cap policy we’re currently seeing spotlighted by media coverage, is based on ‘evidence’ that these clubs contribute to increased rates of violence against women in the areas in which they exist, and is stated as forming part of the council’s stated commitment against such acts.

I worked in a club that lost its licence under such an agenda, Platinum Lounge in Chester city centre. Platinum Lounge was an incredibly well-run club, with dancer safety at the forefront and a culture of respect for the dancers, where we were treated fairly and well cared for and protected. The club and its workers were subject to many of the same claims I have been reading in relation to Blackpool's zero cap campaign - that strip clubs were inherently damaging and degrading to women, that their existence contributed towards violence against women, and that a moral cleansing needed to happen to rid the city of the club; a war against objectification and the sexualising of women.

In my previous incarnation, I was also a probation services officer, undertaking a Professional Qualification in Probation (PQUiP) with the National Offender Management Service. I am trained in the areas of working with men who have committed violent crimes, and sexual offences against women, so I have both personal and professional interest and experience in this kind of data. Since I am interested in facts and research, and the aforementioned councils quoted in published press have made claims that strip clubs are responsible for violent behaviour, I thought it pertinent to question if there was any statistical evidence to demonstrate the reduction in rates of violent crime in the instance of an English city with a pre-existing zero cap.

Using Platinum Lounge as a case study, I began to research government statistics to see if, in fact, there was any evidence that its closure and nil cap within the city had indeed reduced rates of violence, in order to add the weight of evidence to Bristol's decision-making rationale.

Platinum Lounge in Chester was closed in July 2015, so I elected to look at the crime statistics for Chester to see if closing the city's only strip club contributed to reducing the rates of violent crimes reported in Chester city centre.

As a sampling unit, I looked at the month of December, starting in December 2013, which includes 2 years of statistics prior to Platinum Lounge's closure, up to and including December 2019, before Covid closed the majority of nightlife venues, as it wouldn't be an accurate comparison to include figures from the lockdown period.

Here is the data that I found on recorded violent crimes in Chester city centre:

  • December 2013 - 46

  • December 2014 - 58

  • December 2015 - 63

  • December 2016 - 70

  • December 2017 - 127

  • December 2018 - 101

And 5 years after Chester's purge of its strip club in Chester city centre:

  • December 2019 - 99

Crime statistics - Exeter - December to December

These statistics can be fact-checked from the source:

Now, to ensure this data was not an outlier for the month of December, I decided to repeat a study of comparison of rates of violence for another month, namely June, which means we can include June 2015 in the pre-closure bracket for comparison, as Platinum Lounge did not close until July 2015.

  • June 2013 – 44

  • June 2014 – 34

  • June 2015 – 40

  • June 2016 – 58

  • June 2017 – 49

  • June 2018 – 70

  • June 2019 – 72

Crime statistics - Exeter - June to June

Again, in this sample, the numbers of violent crimes in Chester city centre have increased year upon year AFTER Platinum Lounge's closure. This is even more interesting as the numbers had actually dropped for 2014 and 2015, and in the years following the strip club closure, violence rose. This interestingly raises an entirely oppositional perspective to that claimed by anti-sex work activists - that it is possible that the presence of Chester’s only strip club, in fact, kept the rates of violence down. further confirmed that in the last 3 years, violence and sexual offenses in Chester city centre had increased by 22.2% (percentages true as of 23/03/2021).

These statistics include violent crime as one encompassing the bracket of violence and sexual assault. These are offences grouped into 2 broader categories: violence with injury, and violence without injury (not including robberies). So although I could not access sexual assault statistics for the city centre individually for these date periods, I further researched the overall annual crime statistics for Chester and Cheshire West from Cheshire West and Chester Community Safety Partnership Strategic Assessment 2015 to see if the trends followed the same pattern. This is a larger geographical scope of the partnership area, but gives a good indication if we can consider the figures above to accurately reflect the trends of sexual violence.

The number of sexual offences recorded in Cheshire West and Chester increased by 21% from 317 in 2014 to 383 in 2015. This is a continued increase from 218 in 2012 and 279 in 2013.

In 2016, the total number of recorded sexual offences in Chester and Cheshire West was 461. For the year 2019, this number had risen to 800 recorded cases. (Source - )

While this look at data and figures was only a very brief investigation, and a much more detailed investigation still needs to be done that compares these statistics to the trends in other zero cap cities, and investigates other contributing factors, it strongly implies that closing the city's only strip club did not impact the numbers of violent crimes in any way, in fact they have risen year upon year. Even taking into account the change in the way certain crimes were recorded which contributed to a rise in statistics for crimes such as anti-social behaviour in 2016, importantly, these statistics demonstrate there is zero evidence to prove that removing strip clubs reduced violence, and particularly violence against women, in Chester.

So how can activists stand behind the claim that strip clubs increase violence when we have documented statistics that prove otherwise?

Well, the answer quite simply is, that by their own admission, they are cherry-picking evidence to suit their narrative, and discarding evidence that doesn’t concur with their ideology.

Professor Teela Sanders produced work on this very issue - 'Regulating Strip-Based Entertainment: Sexual Entertainment Venue Policy and the Ex/Inclusion of Dancers’ Perspectives and Needs' - stating “how community and campaign group voices were heard over that of the dancers themselves”. When the last zero cap review took place in 2019 in Bristol, evidence was submitted which included a summary of the findings from from the largest study conducted to date into the UK strip club industry by Leeds University in 2015, suggesting that one in four SEV performers had a degree and there was no evidence of forced labour, trafficking of women or connections to organised prostitution. The report also stated there was no local evidence of a rise in crime in the vicinity of Bristol's SEVs, and banning the clubs was likely to have a negative impact on the livelihood of predominantly female employees.

Yet in 2021, another public consultation has been activated in Bristol due to anti-sex work campaigners claiming "[other] research has concluded that lap-dancing clubs normalise the sexual objectification of women, have a negative impact on women's safety in the local vicinity and may attract and generate pr*stitution". Now this research does, indeed, exist. There’s just one problem, it was conducted in America, sampling 926 counties (13 U.S. states). It is utterly maddening that a single study conducted on another continent, with entirely different social and cultural implications, is being elevated over the huge weight of local and relevant evidence as carrying enough credence, without question, to threaten the livelihoods of hundreds of workers, simply because it comes from ‘respectable’ people rather than sex workers, or those who advocate against our eradication.

This trend of the voices of anti-sex work activists being elevated also results in the qualitative evidence of the lived experience of our collective community being ignored.

In the case of Chester, over 80 staff became unemployed and dancers were displaced, being forced to travel further and lose regular customers and income, as well as putting them at increased risk in less regulated venues such as ‘pop up’ clubs that are not held to the same standards as those under SEV licensing. Studies have shown that displacing sex workers from their places of work is proven to increase the risk factors associated with the role ( and this again was backed by our own research as part of the NSWC. We have compiled testimonies to contribute to these public consultations which describe the dangers posed by removing licenced premises and forcing dancers into the underground scene, which inevitably flourish in the face of prohibition, just as we have seen during the Covid 19 pandemic. We are telling councils that these clubs exist, and yet our truth is being denied by campaigners who state there is ‘no evidence’ any underground scene emerged in cities previously hit with zero caps.

In ‘Flexible Workers: Labour, regulation and the political economy of the stripping industry’ Sanders and Hardy conclude, “Dancers occupy a privileged position for understanding and critiquing their own conditions of existence... Dancers can speak, if only we will listen”. It is shameful that both our expert contribution, and the weight of research and evidence, continues to be ignored in favour of academically dishonest rhetoric from groups without the benefit of an informed perspective.

By closing down strip clubs and removing the autonomy of those women to work, councils will be acceding to the puritanical moral panic created by sex work exclusionary groups who seek to persecute sex workers and the industry, and putting a band aid on the issue for a 'quick fix'. It is easier to act to eradicate an already marginalised and stigmatized group of people, rather than undertake the difficult work of introducing long term rehabilitative methods to reduce offending in those men with proclivity to commit violence against women. These strategies have been proven through practise to improve recidivism, and are taught as part of the training in how to work with men who commit violence against women. Additionally, colluding with victim-blaming narratives, such as blaming sex workers for creating problems of violence purely due to existing, are proven to contribute to harmful attitudes and ideas.

The government has failed to properly fund harm reduction and rehabilitative programmes designed to target the criminogenic factors that contribute to violent behaviour. Instead, rehabilitation was delegated out to third sector privatisation and charitable organisations, resulting in the failure of policies designed to protect women and reduce risk factors that contributed to violence against them. Additionally, serious case reviews and complaints procedures have shown in the cases where women have reported escalating threatening or violent behaviour from an individual, the police have repeatedly failed to act on effective intervention to prevent serious harm until it is too late.

Pre-emptive strategies such as investing in re-education of archaic and patriarchal social and cultural norms that embolden men to harass women, and increased focus within the Criminal Justice System on early intervention when potential offenders are identified, is the only way we will see meaningful reduction in the rates of violence against women. It’s time our councils, and indeed government, stopped perpetuating rhetoric that blames sex workers for the actions of abusers, and looked closer to home at how the failure to fund their own harm reduction policies, and listen to the advice of their own experts, has exacerbated many of the problems with violence we are experiencing within wider society.

Toni ‘Misty’ Mansell is Chairperson of the Northern Sex Workers Collective (NSWC)

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