Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Hubbard Report - An Initial Reaction

TonyN has been looking at initial results of The Hybbard Report and has provided StrippingTheIllusion with his initial reactions....

Well, many readers may have heard of research being carried out by Professor Phil Hubbard on Sexual Entertainment venues. The initial results are in, and although the full results are not due until March 2013, I have been given permission to produce a synopsis of the report. I will say at the outset of this post that the majority of the report is not surprising and does no harm to the industry; there is one sticking point which I will discuss in more detail and explain why I feel that it is not likely to affect the industry.

There are 241 licensed premises regularly offering lap dancing or striptease in England and Wales. Nearly half (43%) of those applying for a Sexual Entertainment Venue (SEV) license have received no formal objections at all. This doesn't really come as much of a surprise: most people are not bothered about the venues and there tends to be only a small handful of complainants who may write in. Given that Portsmouth managed to obtain a massive response following a very vocal campaign by pressure groups to get the clubs shut down, with 113 against and over 3000 for the venues, the fact that some clubs receive no objections at all should not surprise anyone.

A survey of residents in towns and cities with lap dance clubs suggests that around one in five were not even aware there was an SEV operating in their town or city! Fewer than one in ten identified an SEV as a particular source of local nuisance, and in some locations this was considerably lower. Once again not a surprise, as we have seen previously from my report on crime that the belief that venues are an issue for police is a fallacy.

Some key quotes from the report follow:-

'Women, those over 40, those who have lived in their current home for over 5 years and those with children are most likely to argue there are too many lap dance clubs in their town. Women, those with children and the over 40s are least likely to suggest that striptease is harmless entertainment and most likely to suggest it attracts criminal elements and promotes sexism.' 

Without seeing the full breakdown of those commenting it is hard to judge how impactful this statement is.

'Around one in ten in our survey suggested there is no suitable location for lap dancing clubs. Very few believe clubs are suitable near schools, though the majority (55%) regard town and city centres as appropriate locations.' 

So here we have less than 10% completely against venues. And these would be women, those aged over 40, etc. And the fact that over half of the people surveyed were happy to have them located somewhere is a strong message in line with the responses to public consultations.

'Walk-along events were used to gauge the impact SEVs had on the night-time economy in four case study locations. These suggested that SEVs were not the most significant source of fear or anxiety for participants, with most instances of antisocial and rowdy behaviour being associated with other venues, notably pubs.' 

I am once again unsurprised by this. We have seen that violent and sexual crimes do not appear around venues on average and that pubs and night clubs are much more likely to have a history which would disturb people walking past.

'Women were more likely than men to pass comment on SEVs and express un-ease or anxiety about them. None argued that SEVs were a major source of antisocial behavior, or were able to cite any instances of harassment, noise or violence associated with such clubs: concerns appeared to coalesce around the normalization of male-oriented sexual entertainment and the encouragement of sexist attitudes among younger people.' 

This suggests that moral anxiety and disgust, rather than fear, may underpin many objections about SEVs. I almost burst out laughing when I read this! Mainly because the one thing that has been said by the new law is that moral grounds CANNOT be used as a reason to close a venue, and yet here we have research which shows that the only real objections are on moral grounds. Those local authorities that have put 'nil' policies in place might want to consider this.

SEVs which were discrete in terms of their signage, naming and exterior appearance appeared to generate least comment or concern. Sexist imagery and names were objected to by many of our participants. Well have to say this would be fair comment, after all some venue names were not well thought out. In terms of marketing signage should be appropriate.

Thinking about the days the barbers had a candy stripe pole to show who they were. Serious note though: when you look at Shayler's, the venue certainly doesn't look sexy; a balance between advertising and not embarrassing people as they walk past.

Well, the report goes on to outline methodology and the aims of the research. When the full report comes out, I may break these down, but wanted to get the results out. Here we go with the results:

'Our survey found that 22% of respondents who lived in towns with one or more SEVs present were unaware of these premises. One in four of those who were aware of such premises had visited a lap dance venue: of the rest, most had become aware of a venue by seeing on the street rather than reading about it in the media.'

Almost a quarter of people surveyed didn't even know that a venue was in the town. Also 18% of the people surveyed had been in the venues.

The issue with signage does come up here, the fact that venues attract their first time customers by the imagery. A discreet solution? Or maybe advertising that only works after the watershed. This could and should be discussed between venues and councils.

'One in five respondents identified a venue in their town that they thought caused particular nuisance: 65% of these were pubs or clubs, 20% take-aways or off-licenses and 15% SEVs. Pubs were most likely to be associated with noise, take-aways with littering and lap dance venues with crime and antisocial behaviour. This implies only around 3% of our respondents felt that an SEV was a source of particular nuisance. This can be contrasted with another UK survey (n=1875) where 57% of respondents felt clusters of sex premises would have detrimental effects on the vibrancy and vitality of their local high street (cf. 36% for fast food outlets and 19% for pubs/bars) (Local Government Association, 2012).'

Only 20% of people identified places as a nuisance and in real terms, just 3% of people thought venues caused issues. When you take this with the earlier research where people felt venues would cause a problem, it really puts pay to the claim of clubs causing a nuisance.

'Overall, 83% of people think SEVs are unsuitable near Schools or Nurseries, 46% near Universities/Colleges, 65% near religious facilities, and 45% near shops. Only 3% think SEVs are suitable in residential areas, 10% in rural areas, and 15% in industrial areas, though the majority (55%) feel town centres are suitable. Around 1 in 10 claim there are no suitable locations for SEVs. This group is most likely to regard SEVs as promoting sexism, and least likely to regard it as harmless entertainment. This group is most likely to report avoiding walking past SEVs at night. However, this group does not have an over-representation of people with children in the household, even though this was the population most likely to report nuisance from SEVs.'

Okay, everyone seems to have a different opinion here. The majority opinion is that Town Centres are okay. Interestingly 10% are against all locations so 90% are not against venues located somewhere. Very much expecting this with a NIMBY approach by some people colouring the results. I would take the 90% as a positive result although I think the researchers had to tone the results.

'The implication here is that SEVs are not regarded as a significant source of nuisance by the majority, but that a significant minority feel such clubs are inappropriate because they promote sexism, crime and encourage antisocial behaviour. This group appears to harbour concerns that SEVs might encourage and normalize particularly negative attitudes towards women. Perceptions of SEVs therefore appear to be strongly shaped by gender, though men living with children in their household, and those over 40, also appears significantly more likely to be opposed to lap dance venues. Religion and ethnicity made no significant difference to attitudes to SEVs.' 

The key phrase here is "a significant minority": without the actual figures, it will be hard to judge just how significant that minority is. Considering the fact the report said earlier that venues are not associated with nuisance crime reports, the fear of crime and antisocial behaviour is unfounded, and you then have to consider whether that minority willing to change their views, or if they have fixed opinions with little or no truth behind them. As to the negative attitude towards women, the people I have met over the years in venues are the least likely to have them: not saying we are all perfect or saints, but people would be much better looking at the imagery and lyrics in modern music as shapers of sexism in young people.

'Around one in three of our respondents claimed to feel reasonably or very unsafe walking in the city at night. This group was significantly more likely to say there were too many SEVs in their town than those who felt safe, and more likely than any other group to say they would avoid walking past a lap dance club at night. Women were significantly over-represented in this group, suggesting the presence of SEVs in the night-time city may have gendered effects. This was explored in our guided walks, which suggested women were more likely to note, and comment on, the presence of SEVs in their local towns than men. Here, unease about SEVs appeared more related to questions of class, morality and disgust than fear, with SEVs contribution to antisocial behaviour and rowdy behaviour deemed marginal, and in some cases insignificant, compared with other venues.'

Part of the methodology was to take people from the survey around town including walking past venues. The important thing to note is the claims of fear made to the survey suddenly seem to dissipate and become moralistic judgements. The statement we so often read about venues causing women to fear them seems not to be as accurate as we were lead to believe.

'Notably, SEVs that had discrete signage, were well-kept and did not overtly sexualize the public realm appeared least likely to provoke unease among participants in our walk-along events, who were concerned about the impact of advertising on children.'

This comes down to discussing signage with councils. I have no doubt that providing both parties are willing to co-operate a positive result will be forthcoming

We now move onto to the conclusions, some are no brainers others will require a little thought:-

'Opposition to SEVs appears mainly based on perceptions that clubs normalize sexism and promote anti-social behaviour rather than any direct experience of crime. Those who have children in their home appear significantly more likely to describe existing SEVs as a source of nuisance, while women are most likely to argue for fewer SEVs.'

So, belief that something is wrong rather than fact, which we have said so many times. Remembering that only 3% of respondents describe a venue as being a nuisance, this is such a small minority that until we see that full breakdown of figures, I question the significance of the statement.

'However, not all clubs are perceived to have similar impacts on their locality, and some communities seem more accepting of SEVs. Some clubs are judged to be better managed, and some locations as more suitable. This implies the need for considering each application on a case-by case basis. Irrespective, current approaches based on excluding SEVs from residential areas or near schools appear to be widely supported. However, few regard SEVs as a major threat to children’s safety, suggesting concern is primarily about the normalization of particular attitudes towards women among young(er) people.'

I do not doubt some people will worry about this, but discrete venues should not be an issue. The provision for venues in suitable locations should minimise exposure to children and considering the opening times of a lot of venues changes in signage will mitigate the risks to children. Although nothing will help them with the sexualisation on TV.

'The implications here is that licensing needs to take seriously its commitment to Gender Equity and Equality, and that objections based on grounds of sexism and morality might be considered when determining licensing applications given these might have implications for the appearance and naming of clubs (noting most people first become aware of lap dancing clubs in their city by seeing them on their streets).' 

This sentence took a little aback after all the positive messages in the report. However, we should note that the use of the moralistic approach to judging venues was not put in place in the previous change in the law; so currently trying to take a moral approach would go against the legal position. I would question morals being a guideline especially as they cannot give a standardised approach. So the question is if a moralistic view was taken on SEVs what would follow? It would certainly be interesting to see a test case before the European Court about whether a business be closed on moral grounds.

Overall a very positive report, certainly going back to a case by case review rather than this misfiring nil policy. I think that in a survey that was performed on 941 people and only 10% totally against venues once again shows the moral high ground is extremely wobbly, with nowhere near as much support as campaigners against striptease venues had hoped.


  1. Hi Chasmal,
    Thanks for your hard work in covering the event..
    it is very impressive reading..


    1. I can't take any credit here. Although booked to attend the event, other factors intervened and I was unable to be there. The real work was undertaken by TonyN with a great article.

  2. That last paragraph is a little ambiguous.
    Is it saying that sexism/morality should be taken account in relation to naming/appearance of the club or the actual awarding of licences?

    If it is the former then fair enough, but the latter would be a different kettle of fish.

    1. Alan I have read the report 15 times and I am still not 100% sure either way. Personally I feel that the issue is very much signage and naming. However not 100% sure which is why I mentioned the closing clubs on moral grounds to cover the bases.

    2. I cannot accept the idea that personal morality be employed as a decision making tool in licensing issues. The existing legislation forbids it and to allow it would quite frankly trigger a wave a moral judgements that would quite literally change the face of society forever.

      That said some feminists are so committed to their cause that they would choose any weapon they could lay their hands on if they thought it would bring them victory.

    3. Allowing personal morality to be used as a factor in licensing issues would not be anti-pluralist, but would also open the doorway to other forms of prohibition and sexual discrimination in the name of religion. If certain 'feminists' imagine that running a society on the basis of personal morality would be a good thing, perhaps they should take a look at how life was in the Irish Republic prior to Mary Robinson's presidency, and think again...

    4. This is the issue. They cannot see beyond their own campaign aspirations and as such seem not to care about the consequences of their 'achievements'. Dangerous territory and I will focus on that for my next article.

    5. Indeed: there's no small irony that, in allying themselves with religious conservatives, people who describe themselves as feminists run the risk of creating a society in which many (possibly most) of the gains made by the 'women's movement' towards gender equality over the last 40 years would be reversed.