Calls for sex sauna ban to end the 'cycle of abuse'
THE city's deputy leader today defended Edinburgh's system of licensed saunas amid calls to close down those where sex is being sold.
The Christian Action Research and Education (Care), which has been lobbying the Scottish Parliament for action, called for licences for the Capital's saunas to be "revoked immediately".
The group says a total ban on saunas would be a step towards ending the "cycle of abuse of women", and dismissed claims that it would drive prostitution underground.
But the council's deputy leader, Steve Cardownie, defended the status quo saying Edinburgh's sex industry operated "relatively discretely" under the current regime and did not have the large-scale problems with street prostitution and under-age sex workers suffered elsewhere in the UK.
It is estimated that around 400 women work in Edinburgh's saunas, with around 20 per cent being non-UK citizens.
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The calls for a sauna ban come as Labour MSP Trish Godman seeks to outlaw the purchase of sex in a bid to cut prostitution. She is currently carrying out a consultation before presenting a member's bill to the Scottish Parliament, which would ask MSPs to make it a criminal offence to pay for sexual services. Gordon MacDonald, parliamentary officer for Care, said: "The saunas should have their licenses revoked immediately if there are illegal activities going on, and that clearly seems to be the suggestion.
"Care's position is that we are supportive of legislation being put forward by Trish Godman, which would target the demand side of prostitution by making it an offence to purchase sex. That way the saunas would close because they would have no customers.
"The idea of these places being driven underground is used to support their existence, but these claims are not backed up by substantial empirical evidence. In Sweden, where buying sex is illegal, there hasn't been evidence of it going underground.
"We need to change attitudes to make it a social taboo to use prostitutes, which continues the cycle of abuse against women."
Cllr Cardownie said: "Saunas are licensed by the council and my experience as a councillor is that these premises don't attract a lot of problems with antisocial behaviour.
"Edinburgh doesn't have the major problems that other cities have with street prostitution. For me, the city has fewer problems than places like Cardiff or York, which have had difficulties with street prostitution, under-age girls working and so on. I don't think that's a problem here.
"I think visitors to the city would say that the sex industry here operates relatively discretely."
Ruth Morgan, who sits on the board of Scotpep - the Scottish Prostitutes Education Project - said a ban on saunas would lead to sex workers being forced to work alone from private flats or in makeshift brothels run by "undesirable people".
She added: "Saunas provide a safer environment for sex workers. If we criminalise the buying of sex then we'll be left with unlicensed premises run by the sort of people who would not get sauna licences. You would create an underground industry which was much more dangerous for the women involved."
Edinburgh was the first city in the UK to grant saunas and massage parlours public entertainment licences in 1986. There are now around 20 premises that fall into this category.
A police spokesman said: "We have clear priorities in relation to prostitution, which includes protecting individuals from harm as a result of exploitation caused by prostitution, and investigating and disrupting organised criminal activity associated with prostitution.
"Over the past year we have introduced an intelligence-gathering element which is designed to establish whether any organised criminal activity is evident in the operation of a number of premises.
"In addition, we are working far more actively with partners in an attempt to identify any individual who has, or is, being exploited, forced or coerced into working in the sex industry."
No amount of decor will hide the seediness
WHETHER trying to create a seductive mood with crimson lighting and plush couches, or going for a spartan approach in plain white rooms, Edinburgh's saunas may never be able to shake off their air of seediness.
In one New Town premises, the stairs lead to a room with sheer white walls and a receptionist sitting on a stool behind an old-fashioned till which might have been last seen in a 1970s cornershop.
Behind her sit three women in bikinis on a trio of folded chairs, each looking up hopefully as the bell rings to welcome another punter.
In another city centre sauna visited by the News, the owner has gone for a more "upmarket" approach.
A 15 entry fee buys a passport into its large reception area bathed in crimson light from red light bulbs which reflect from curtains draping from the ceiling. After a few minutes, a women in her mid-20s wearing a black and pink negligee and suspenders totters across to the reception area in stiletto heels. She smiles and sits down on the long red couch, giving her name and telling our reporter she is from Thailand and has lived in Scotland for the past two years.
In broken English, she tries to arrange an agreement to go to a nearby room. Another woman, Middle-Eastern in appearance, tries to muscle in on her deal, taking advantage of her better English.
Politely declining her offer, the Thai woman led our reporter to a nearby room and opened the door to another small room with a double bed, dark walls and red lighting.
Making no pretence at offering a massage, the woman says it is 40 for a sex act and 60 for the "full service", which she confirms is sex.
Our reporter makes his excuses to leave so the woman takes a seat back in the reception area, where her colleague is already chatting up the next customer.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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