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

Share
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

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

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The author with David Leppan, the co-founder of Wealth-X, in his BBC series  

What I learnt about inequality after spending time with some of the richest people in the world

Jacques Peretti
 

If I were Prime Minister: I would halt the charitable status enjoyed by private schools

Rosie Millard
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links