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Charity condemns move against capital’s saunas

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A charity dedicated to the promotion of sex workers’ rights and health has expressed disappointment at a decision by Edinburgh councillors to scrap a controversial policy for licensing saunas and massage parlours.

Neil McCulloch, a board member at Scot-Pep, claimed the move would “further erode the already shaken trust that women working in these premises have in the police and in the justice system.”

He said it would make women far less likely to feel able to report crimes against them: “Violent people will know to target these women precisely because they will know the women feel unable to rely on police help.”

McCulloch warned premises would be “driven underground” away from service providers such as health workers.

“This policy has obvious negative implications for the ability of women to protect their health, as well as wider public health implications in Scotland,” he said.

“Police Scotland and Edinburgh City Council would do well to recall the saunas were put in place to tackle the HIV/Aids crisis of the 1980s.

“Complacency on this issue is ill-founded. HIV was successfully tackled in Edinburgh through policies that centred on harm reduction; if we remove those policies, we may well see a corresponding rise in HIV transmission.”

Complacency on this issue is ill-founded

He said Scot-Pep was urging the council to listen to the voices of current sex workers who needed full decriminalisation and better services.

Zero Tolerance, the Edinburgh-based charity campaigning against the abuse and exploitation of women, welcomed the decision.

It said it had opposed the policy in recent years because it saw it as increasing and sanctioning violence against women, not reducing it.

“We’ve never thought of prostitution as a legitimate form of public entertainment like the sunbed parlours or gigs that the licensing regime regulates. Prostitution is fundamentally different to the other forms of entertainment controlled by the council.”

The move by the city’s licensing committee will benefit the council in that it will remove it from accusations it might be implicated in brothel-keeping, which is illegal. The council has faced several legal challenges in the courts over saunas.