Police are trying to get condoms banned from Edinburgh’s licensed saunas, in a move which charities say will increase HIV rates and force the city’s prostitutes out onto the street.
A meeting of the Scottish capital’s licensing committee will decide today if a number of saunas – traditionally tolerated as a safe place for sex workers to conduct their business – will be forced to close.
Police Scotland has written to the city council arguing that the five saunas should only receive licences on the condition that there is a ban on all “items of a sexual nature” on the premises.
Charities which support sex workers in the city have attacked the police’s objections as “morality-driven”, and say it would put the lives of prostitutes and their clients at risk.
The group Scot-Pep (Scottish Prostitutes Education Project) quoted a recent report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) which said that governments “should take action to end the practice” of using condoms as evidence of sex work.
The WHO said: “Condoms should never be considered to be evidence of sex work, either in official laws or through unofficial law-enforcement practices, and condoms should never be confiscated from sex workers.”
Nadine Stott, a board member for Scot-Pep, told the BBC: “This goes against all basic common sense. It also places Scotland really out of step with the rest of the world.
“We are really shocked that, in private, the police have been quite clear to us. They said that the policy (on saunas) wasn't changing.
“We think this highlights how inappropriate the police are as a regulatory body of sex workers in a criminal context.”
Today’s decision comes after police raids in March which saw six premises, almost half of Edinburgh’s 13 saunas, have their licences put up for review.
Scot-Pep said those raids hailed a shift in attitudes which will see “Edinburgh follow Glasgow's lead, and drive women out onto the street rather than let us work in discretion and safely indoors”.
They quoted one sex-worker, named only as Cat, who said: “Condoms as evidence is really scary. They’re going to perpetrate these traumatic, horrible raids, and for what? To find condoms in my purse? All women should be afraid of these developments, but sex workers especially. What if they confiscate my condoms and I still have to work that night?”
Independent MSP Margo MacDonald told the Edinburgh Evening News: “I don’t know what their intention is but the effect of this would completely destroy the safer sex message that has been delivered to the sex industry and wider community over the last 30 years.
“With a line-up of expert and unimpeachable organisations opposed to this it makes the police look isolated and rather amateurish.”
A Police Scotland spokesman told the BBC: “Police Scotland recently provided reports to the Council Regulatory Committee in respect of a number of public entertainment licence renewals.
“In cases where there was evidence of criminality or premises operating out-with the conditions of their licence, objections were made to those licences being renewed.
“Police Scotland will continue to work with partners to inspect and report on licensed premises operating within Edinburgh in order to keep people safe.
“Whenever criminal activity, or licensing contraventions are detected within these venues, officers will respond appropriately and report all offences to the relevant authority.”