Ex-showgirl fights Holyrood moves to ban lapdancing

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A SHOWGIRL turned scholar is taking on the Scottish Government over new moves to ban lapdancing.

Former dancer Sarah Vernon, 34, has just finished work on a PhD in striptease and strip club culture. She is using her expertise to campaign against the bid to allow councils to outlaw strip clubs.

She said a ban would infringe performers' human rights and damage Scotland's economy.

Ms Vernon, who runs an Edinburgh-based company specialising in burlesque and cabaret, said: "I was a dancer for many years. I'm a big advocate of freedom within adult entertainment. Under human rights laws, if everyone is consenting, you have a right to dance around naked because that's your freedom of expression."

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Ms Vernon spent seven years carrying out field work as a "participant-observer" in two Edinburgh clubs as part of her sociology PhD entitled "The private, the public and the pubic: striptease and naked power in Scotland".

She said there had been no long-term study in the UK which backed up the critics' claims that women were harmed by working as lapdancers.

MSPs are due to debate the issue later this month after Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill promised to table an amendment at the final stage of the Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill, based on proposals from Glasgow SNP backbencher Sandra White.

She wants councils to be able to limit the number of lapdance venues in their area – preferably to zero. The Edinburgh-based Zero Tolerance Trust backed the call, arguing lapdance clubs are "harmful to women individually, women collectively, and communities".

Ms Vernon said she understood Zero Tolerance's position, but claimed it did not look at the issue logically.

"The bottom line is some people don't like other people doing this for a living. They find it distasteful and they do not see it as a valid form of labour.

"The Zero Tolerance people think we are reinforcing patriarchy, permitting ourselves to be exploited and allowing the degradation of women. It's quite insulting to be told 'you might think you are choosing but you are not really'.

"A lot of people find it very difficult to come to terms with women – or men – using the body as a commodity in that way. For a lot of people the idea of public nudity is something they find difficult, especially when it involves the exchange of money."

Ms Vernon trained in all kinds of dancing from ballet and Highland to jazz and disco.

"For ten years I worked in various different forms of adult entertainment. I never had the feeling of being exploited. I felt very much in control."

She said some dancers take great pride in their work.

"Some of them have a background in dramatic art or they are dancers. It's not just about getting up and jiggling about."

She said there was also evidence that a ban would harm the economy.

"Scotland makes a great deal of money from tourism and adult entertainment plays a big part in that for stag and hen nights.

"A ban would cause a drop in group tourism and lead to greater unemployment."

In a submission she wrote on behalf of the International Union of Sex Workers, Ms Vernon describes the proposed amendment as a form of censorship that does not fit with the image of Scotland as a modern, tolerant and diverse society.

And she warns: "Demand for this form of entertainment will not disappear. Closure of current adult entertainment venues will drive the practice into unlicensed venues, hotel rooms and domestic premises, greatly increasing the risk to dancers' safety."