Sex Entertainment Venues: Regulating Working Conditions

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sociology & Social Policy


Women who work in the lap dancing industry are stigmatised and often exploited by unregulated working environments making the work precarious, unstable and potentially unsafe. Aside from moral opinions regarding how they earn money, thousands of women each night in the UK are taking part in exotic dance to earn a living. The conditions under which they work are mostly unregulated, as current regulation focuses on the premises and the external aspects of regulation such as fire regulations, door security and selling alcohol. How the dancers experience their jobs is currently not considered a regulatory concern. In a recent ESRC project involving a large scale survey of 200 dancers and follow up interviews with 30 dancers and 60 other people involved in the industry (club managers, owners, door staff, 'house mums', health and safety officers, police, licensing officers etc), we exposed the motivations for dancing and their experiences as self employed independent contractors. This research is innovative as it moves away from the existing literature on lap dancing which focuses on the identities and emotional management strategies of the dancers and their relationships with the customers. For the first time, this research project examines the dancers experiences as workers. Two important themes came out of the research. First, that the status of 'self employed' is misleading. Financial exploitation from management was a concern expressed by participants: fees paid to work in the club were often high, along with random fines, internal tipping systems, and the threat of instant dismissal. Safety inside the clubs, especially in private closed-off spaces was another concern for some participants. Working long hours throughout the night with few facilities or a space to rest and refresh were the kinds of issues that dancers felt made their jobs difficult. Secondly, the majority of dancers were young, single women under 30 years of age, and were also in other forms of low paid jobs (such as retail, beauty, and bar work) and/or were also studying. The group who mainly used dancing as their sole income were migrant women. For all of the participants, dancing was considered a highly flexible job but at the same time could not be relied on due to the volatile and unstable nature of the industry. Therefore dancing was used strategically to manoeuvre out of precarious employment prospects and to build a more secure and financially stable future.
The researchers believe that these two findings can be acted upon and made relevant to policy and practice in an attempt to improve the working conditions for the women who work in the clubs. This proposed project comes at a time when there has been some new laws introduced in 2010 to govern the way in which lap dancing clubs operate and change how they are licensed. This programme of work will take key research findings forward to a non-academic audience made up of policy makers, licensing practitioners, unions and industry members who can act upon them and improve standards through the licensing processes. The project will work with the HM Revenue & Customs to provide education and workplace rights information to dancers regarding paying tax and the benefits of doing so. Information in an accessible form will be given to unions and representative groups who can take forward this campaign for better working conditions. Partnership work will also be conducted with West Yorkshire Police Community Safety Team to develop safety information and a clear line of reporting incidents. To do this we will write five bespoke briefing papers and create two visual summaries so that the findings from the research can be understood without dense text and statistics. In all of our activities dancers will be consulted and integrated into the planning and delivery of the activities to ensure that their input shapes the materials created. A website will allow these materials to be permanently available.

Planned Impact

The beneficiaries and users of this project span a wide range of audiences. Firstly, those involved in managing and organising the lap dancing industry, some of whom were participants in the initial research, will be recipients of the findings. Second, dancers will receive summaries from the findings and also benefit from a bespoke set of workshops and information around safety, tax compliance and workplace rights. Permanent resources will be created to be cascaded down to as many clubs and dancers as possible, through induction packs used in the clubs. Also, these materials will be permanently on a website. Third, five briefing papers will be written for the specific audiences of: licensing and enforcement officers, local authority regulators, unions, safety organisations, industry management. Fourth, these briefing papers will be delivered through targetted seminars to the above audiences where their specific agenda's can be addressed. Finally, HM Revenu & Customs Business Partnership team will benefit from access and the ability to conduct targetted work at this hard to reach industry. Some of these groups have competing interests so bespoke seminars addressing their concerns and interests is the most effective way in which to make the research findings active and applicable.

The ways in which the beneficiaries may benefit from the research are far reaching. We anticipate that the dancers are the most likely group to benefit both directly and indirectly. Through direct consultation and workshops with the dancers, we hope to improve the knowledge and skills that these workers have regarding their workplace rights and the advantages of being tax compliant. We also hope that some club owners and managers take on board the issues that have been reported to the researchers regarding the conditions under which they work. For instance, more information regarding safety, personal insurance and the tax system will enable dancers to fully understand their status as self employed independent contractors. We estimate 6,000 dancers could receive the information.

At a policy level, the audiences of Local Government Regulators and licensing officers are involved with directly creating and enforcing policy. The follow-on funding maps onto a change in law during 2010, which overhauled the way in which lap dancing venues are licensed. During 2011 all Local Authorities will be consulting and drafting policy relating to the new law. One new aspect of the law is that local Licensing Committees now have the power to stipulate precise conditions of the license. It is under this power that we hope to influence policy so that welfare and working conditions are included in the licensing process. This has already been achieved with the Leeds City Council Licensing Committee (Bristol, Cornwall and West Dorset also) who have taken on some or all of the recommendations from the research findings. One of the key areas we hope to impact upon is to raise and review the safety strategies in clubs, particularly around private booths. Working with workplace safety experts the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and local project Genesis, the safety concerns of dancers will be a core focus, producing best practice for safety inside and outside the clubs. This will be supported by the work of the West Yorkshire Police Community Safety Team. Finally, HM Revenue & Customs will seek tax compliance from a small percentage of dancers.

There will also be an academic impact. Firstly, this will relate to the innovative dissemination tool, the Inforgraphic Summary, which will be written up as a useful visual aide to presenting large data to non-academic audiences. Secondly, the academic outputs will contribute to the gender and work debates, placing lap dancing in the broader context of the political economy of work. This will directly feed into teaching modules and postgraduate supervision at the University of Leeds which have a strong research-led approach.
Description This dissemination project was sharing the research findings and recommendations from a previously ESRC funded project, the "The Regulatory Dance: Structural Integration of Sexual Consumption into the Night Time Economy" (RES-000-22-3163). Finished in 2011, this is the largest study of the strip-based entertainment industry to date, adds to this extensive research repertoire by making theoretical and empirical advances to our existing knowledge of gender based social issues around employment and the rise of sexual consumption. The operation of strip clubs needed to be examined in relation to: a) the broader processes of urban governance and structural integration of sexual consumption businesses in the city and night time economy; b) the working conditions of dancers and the entrance routes that create 'supply'; c) the relationships between regulatory processes, corporate and independent club ownership and the management of the night time economy. The study (consisting of a survey of 197 dancers and 70 interviews) focused on women who operate in the strip-based entertainment industry in the UK, and produced the following key findings:

1. The vast majority of dancers had made a decision to do dancing/stripping as a flexible, relatively high earning (although unpredictable), cash-in-hand form of work.

2. Most women did not report any violence and felt safe in their workplace due to security and door personnel, however, there was some reporting of unwanted touching and harassment from customers.

3. There was no evidence of organised prostitution or trafficking / forced involvement.

4. Most dancers were concerned about the high fees, commissions and fines they were paying to the management, especially on occasions when they were taking relatively little money home. 70% of respondents said they had left a shift without earning any money.

5. There was overall concern amongst dancers that their welfare and working conditions were not being taken seriously by the new legislation introduced in the Policing and Crime Act, 2009 that set out a new Sex Entertainment Venue licensing process but rather assumptions were being made about exploitation and the community's views were favoured against dancers.
Exploitation Route The project was all about dissemination to the striptease industry, the Licensing fraternity in the UK which is made up of licensing officers, Local Authority Licensing Committees and the Institute of Licensing. At the heart of the project was consultation with female dancers and other workers in the industry, so that the resources that were designed and produced were informed by their experiences, needs and understanding of their work. Equally policy recommendations we promoted to Local Authority Licensing Committees and practitioners were informed by dancers, managers and owners in the business who strive for a regulated, tolerated and professional industry free from stereotypes and myths about the work.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice

Description 1. Influencing SEV Policy and Licensing Conditions • Direct work with licensing practitioners (one to one meetings) and training events where research findings and recommendations have been transmitted to Licensing Committees in 20 Local Authorities. Briefings have been sent via the Local Government Authority through their e-bulletin to 3,000 officers in August 2011 and March 2012. The research reports and recommendations have been used in license hearings by solicitors and twice in court cases. • Through the Institute of Licensing we have conducted training events/seminars with 8 /11 regions across the UK, with some 300+ licensing practitioners and police attending. Plus a training event at the IOL annual training conference in November 2012 to capture those outside the regions, giving maximum transmission of findings. • As a result there has been significant influence and inclusion of our recommendations, on how to improve dancer welfare, safety and good practice in management during the first phase of the new Sex Entertainment Venue Policies written by the majority of LA's across England and Wales. 2. Industry Involvement in Changing Working Conditions Four seminars with the industry from the following cities were held: Aberdeen (30/31Jan 2012) London (28 June 2012), Manchester (18 June 2012), Leeds (10 July 2012), Blackpool (31 May 2012), Cardiff (13 June 2012) capturing managers from at least 50/200 venues. These industry representatives have contributed to the gold standards of good practice which are being promoted to the Licensing Committee's as well as within their own clubs. 3. Resource for Dancers We have now created a permanent, accessible and mobile resource for dancers consisting of essential information about personal safety at work; tax awareness; and self-employment information through an Iphone App and Website for Dancers: Key 'top tips' on the website are written in English, Romainian, Portuguese, Spanish, Polish and Russian with corresponding promotional material. 4) Media / Public Engagement Broader public engagement has been extensive through the broadsheets and tabloid press. For example: Preliminary findings launch August, 2010, in the Independent, which was further reported by 26 media outlets and in 6 languages), Also another article in the Guardian on 15th January 2011 and the Financial Times (20th June 2011)
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal

Description Institute of Licensing 
Organisation Institute of Licensing
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Both the PI and the Researcher have worked closely with the Institute of Licensing to disseminate knowledge from the research project and the work with dancers and Local Authorities around licensing conditions. This has culminated in joint training events with solicitors to the Institute of Licensing.
Start Year 2011