Sheffield’s only strip club, Spearmint Rhino, has been subject to objections since 2012, when the Council adopted legislation that required strip clubs to apply annually for a sexual entertainment venue licence.
Despite a growing number of objections each year, Sheffield City Council has continued to grant its licence.
In the past, women have told the council that they have experienced harassment by men visiting the club.
One woman who had a studio in Yorkshire Arts Space cited one of the reasons that she gave up her studio there was because of her negative experience of working close to the Spearmint Rhino club.
She said she was “harassed by men hanging around outside the club” and it made the area feel “unsafe, testosterone-filled and unpleasant to move around in.”
Former dancers have also testified at a hearing, how strip clubs are toxic environments in which to work; they epitomise inequality between the sexes.
They reported that they ended up hating men as a result of being in them.
At last year’s hearing, a former dancer said: “I was viewed and treated like a second-class citizen and not just in one club but in all, this made me hate men to an extreme level, they repulsed me.”
The law states that a public body such as Sheffield City Council must consider the public sector equality duty that is set out in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010.
This means that it must have due regard to the need to: eliminate discrimination against and harassment of women; advance the equality of opportunity for women; and foster good relations between women and men (including tackling prejudice and promoting understanding).
We believe that strip clubs are incompatible with these aims.
They directly discriminate against women by normalising sexual objectification.
This contributes to our sexualisation and objectification in other areas of society, and reinforces a culture where we receive unwanted male attention ranging from street harassment, to sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape.
Following the club’s licence renewal in 2016, a local resident brought a legal challenge against Sheffield City Council for its failure to have due regard to the PSED when residents’ concerns about the impacts of such venues on gender equality were dismissed as “moral objections.”
Judge Mrs Justice Jefford allowed the judicial review to go ahead, stating there was no evidence that the Council had considered the PSED.
She said: “There is a tenable basis for the Claimant’s inference that the Defendant has wrongly ignored objections based on the potential impact on gender equality, treating them as moral objections and irrelevant.”
In the end, the claimant and the Council agreed to settle the case in 2017 on the basis that the Council acknowledged that it “failed to comply with the public sector equality duty when making its decision on 16th May 2016.”
The second judicial review was brought by the same resident in late 2017, following the Council’s approval of a new policy that did not limit the number of permitted strip clubs in Sheffield, nor did it consider the PSED.
Again, the claim was that the Council “failed to comply with its obligations under section 149 Equality Act 2010.”
Local and national women’s organisations formed The Time’s Up for Strip Clubs coalition (a runner up at this year’s Sheila McKechnie Foundation awards in the “best use of law category”) to crowdfund this action to meet legal costs.
At the judicial review in 2018, after hearing the evidence, the Council conceded defeat and the policy that would lead to an unlimited number of sexual entertainment venues in Sheffield was quashed.
The judge in this case, Mrs Justice Philippa Whipple, criticised the Council, by saying: “This is the second judicial review the Council has conceded on the same issue, and conceded on public sector equality duties grounds on both occasions.
“That is disappointing. I hope Council will take it seriously.”
The Court ordered there should be a new public consultation to inform the Council’s policy on strip clubs.
We are still waiting for that consultation.
We want the Council to understand its equality obligations and the inherent harms of the strip club industry.
This is why we spoke at last week’s council meeting.
We wanted not only to highlight breaches that have recently been exposed in Spearmint Rhino, but to request that all councillors step up to the mark.
They should familiarise themselves with the information, research and testimonies from women who have worked in the industry, about the reality and consequences of so-called sexual entertainment.
We want Sheffield to lead the way to become a strip club free city.
This column was written jointly by Not Buying It Sheffield; One Billion Rising; Women’s Equality Party Sheffield and Zero Option