On 23 April 2012, The Scotsman published an article about a recent statement by Edinburgh City Councillor Joanna Mowat on the state of prostitutions and saunas in Edinburgh.
Main Article: Tory tears a strip off city’s stance on licensing saunas
The argument (from a member of the public at a hustings) is that because the City Council signs the licenses for saunas which engage in prostitution (rather obviously), then the City Council must therefore support prostitution which (again, according to the vocal member of the public and Jenny Kemp of Zero Tolerance) is violence against women.
To which Cllr Mowat sighed dramatically and rolled her eyes and the obvious oversimplification of the issue. OK, no, she didn’t. Instead, she said,
“This is an area I’m deeply uncomfortable with. On the one hand we have pushed prostitution off the streets so it doesn’t stare people in the face, but we are turning a blind eye to what is going on indoors.
“If we are going to tolerate the licensing of brothels, which is essentially what we do, perhaps we should actually license brothels, and part of the regulation would be to ensure that the girls – or men – are not trafficked, that they are tested, that they have access to medical support and that workers can go in if they want a way out of this.
CAAN-Scotland wrote to Cllr Mowat to obtain her statement as to her views, the reasoning behind them, and the plans on the matter.
Cllr Mowat wrote back very promptly, saying,
This isn’t an issue I would normally choose to lead on but was the result of a question at a hustings event where the questioner asked what candidates thought about the City’s condoning of prostitution. …I felt I had to address this as I sit on the Regulatory Committee that licenses saunas…. I have to recognise that sex workers can be vulnerable to abuse and may not be working in the industry of their own volition.
In principle I agree with your guiding statement – as a Councillor I do not want to interfere with the sex lives of consenting adults but I have to be mindful of the vulnerable in society who may be being abused as a result of the current policy.
It was noted in the Scotsman article that Cllr Mowat had in the past agreed with MSP Margo McDonald’s Tolerance Zones approach to prostitution.
Pleased with the Response, CAAN-Scotland wrote back, thanking her for her candid response and warning her that (given past responses to consultations from Holyrood) that the matter was likely be very messy. Cllr Mowat replied:
I agree that any exploration of this will become so heated and difficult that there will be little appetite for it and I would be wary of opening the box any further in case the outcome was one of intolerance that drove the sex industry further underground and made things more difficult for practitioners.
Cllr Mowat agreed to keep CAAN-Scotland in the loop if the issue arises again.
While the issue hasn’t arisen since, it does show that there are still people willing to oppress sexual freedoms, but there are also those who are willing to support them.