Dispatches’ The Hidden World Of Lap Dancing

Just caught this on the wonder that is Catch Up TV. Unsurprisingly, the hidden world of lap dancing was revealed to be highly unregulated, full of very naked women simulating sex acts on entitled menfolk (actually pretty shocking if you don’t know what goes on in these clubs) and spreading rapidly. As Object and the Fawcett Society have been highlighting over the past months, lap dancing clubs are currently licensed in the same way as a bar or kebab shop, so there is little local authorities or local people can do to stop them opening or get them shut down. Unfortunately, the programme makers seemed far more interested in the nimbyism / moralistic aspect of this campaign (not to mention trying to pack in as much naked dancey sexy music time as possible) than the impact of this lack of regulation – and the trade itself – on the women working in the clubs.

All of the clubs visited by the reporter were supposedly bound by conditions on their licence which stipulate, for example, that the dancers must remain a foot away from the customer, that they cannot simulate sex acts and that the customer must not touch the dancer. These conditions were quite clearly ignored in clubs across the country and, as the one ex-dancer they did interview explained, this means that the women have to continually go that little bit further to attract customers and earn money. This situation isn’t helped by the fact that many clubs demand an upfront fee of between £40 and £120 a night from each dancer that must be regained as quickly as possible in order that the women can start to make a profit. In one club, on a quiet night, two women offered the reporter sex in his hotel room for £300 as they weren’t likely to make any money in the club. In the VIP area of London strip chain Secrets, he was again offered full sex. When approached with the researchers’ findings, club owners claimed that such behaviour in “their girls” was rare and would result in dismissal. Fortunately, the programme makers didn’t provide the owners with any names.

That was about the extent of their concern, however, and the programme concluded by wondering if the government has essentially licensed prostitution on our high streets, right under our poor middle class noses (epitomised by the enraged residents of an upmarket London development who saw a ground floor sushi bar turn into a strip club overnight). Thing is, while Object and Fawcett’s campaign may be based on the impact of strip clubs on gender equality and with a view to tightening regulation in order that dancers do not feel pressurized to go further than they’d like, the kind of approach taken by this programme ignores not only the rights but the humanity of the women who work in the clubs. It’s based on the premise that we don’t want “that kind of people/behaviour” rubbed in our faces, rather than on the safety, security and freedom of the women many would like to pretend are some other species that should be neither seen nor heard.

More strip clubs and fewer regulations, along with an apparent total lack of enforcement of the existing ones, means more women potentially being exploited. And, yes, I don’t want to walk past strip clubs or be harassed by their customers, but I’m not the one having to decide whether or not I should give that blow job in order to secure the week’s rent. It’s these women who should be the focus of any campaign to regulate lap dancing, not the privileged nimbys among us.