Edinburgh can't afford to ban its sauna sex trade

Not everyone is fond of the world’s oldest profession. But that doesn’t give Scotland's new consolidated police force the right to sweep thousands of individuals under the rug

Related Topics

It’s no secret that Edinburgh’s ‘saunas’ tend to sell punters a little bit more than just a nice massage or a healthy steam. It never has been.

In fact, the City Council has turned a blind eye to what goes on in these establishments for the last 30 years, and agreed to license them as ‘entertainment venues’ so long as they were quiet, unassuming and didn’t cause a bother. In turn, sex workers were kept out of sight and given a safe environment in which to practice their trade.

All of that is about to change. Now, Scotland’s newly-centralised police force is dead-set on killing the arrangement – and the plan is bound to blow up in the city’s face.

After holding a public consultation, Scottish police chiefs have apparently decided the city’s permissive view of saunas poses a severe “reputational and financial risk” to Scotland’s top travel destination. Yet, as more and more tourist dollars continue to pour into Edinburgh each and every year, something doesn't seem quite right here.

Despite the fact that these neon-coloured establishments aren’t particularly hard to find, they don’t seem to chase anyone away from the old town. After all, the record 1.9m festival-goers who descended upon Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival last August didn’t seem to mind. Executives at Virgin Money don’t seem to care either, as they’ve recently agreed to renew their lucrative sponsorship deal with the festival for another three years. And Hogmanay revellers? Something tells me they couldn’t care less.

So, let’s not kid ourselves – this isn’t about how sex work affects Edinburgh’s sterling reputation or its enviable tourist trade. It’s about how one, overly centralised police force is choosing to address what should be a devolved, city-specific decision.

When Scotland’s eight police forces decided to merge last year, the government vowed the nation’s new, single police force would continue operating in devolved, city-specific clusters. Yet as we’re forced to sit and watch Edinburgh’s delicate (but tolerable) sex trade being targeted just as Glasgow’s was 10 years ago, it’s hard to take that pledge seriously. Like it or not, what works in Glasgow doesn’t necessarily work in Edinburgh – and, as crime continues to rise in the Scottish capital, there are claims it’s become crystal clear that the country’s consolidated police force is not basing its approach on what does and doesn’t work in Edinburgh.

In the last five years, there have been just nine reports of crime at the city’s dozens of saunas. That’s because these establishments provide pseudo-regulated places in which sex workers are relatively protected from exploitation and abuse. That in itself is invaluable, and the city can’t afford to let it go.

If the Edinburgh City Council decides to bow to the will of police chiefs who don’t seem to understand the unique dynamic of power in Edinburgh, will it stop women (or men) from prostituting themselves?

Of course not. What it will do is push them out into unlicensed establishments, where they’ll be subject to unchecked abuse. Worse yet, more still will end up on the streets, exposing themselves to all manner of mistreatment and violation. Or, in police speak, they actually will start posing “a reputational risk” to the Royal Mile. Because at the end of the day, that’s what really matters, isn’t it?

Now, there’s no dancing around it – not everyone is fond of the world’s oldest profession. But that doesn’t give us any right to sweep thousands of individuals under the rug. Edinburgh’s sauna workers will keep on doing what they do, with or without a license; therefore, is it not more trouble than it’s worth to displace them? Whether Scottish police bosses would admit it or not, their actions stand to do serious damage to a situation that is, if not perfect, at least stable. They would do well to keep that in mind before kicking open this particular hornet's nest.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
David Cameron:  

David Cameron: Britain is now the success story of Europe

David Cameron
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk