Sheffield City Council "still ignoring strip clubs' negative impact on women", say campaigners

Spearmint Rhino in Sheffield

A grandmother of five who is taking Sheffield City Council to court in a bid to force them to change their position on strip clubs in the city centre said the authority is still failing to consider the negative impact they have on women.

Campaigners who have been fighting to have the Spearmint Rhino venue, on Brown Street, closed down, have launched a second judicial review after the authority changed its policy on sexual entertainment venues in the city last year.

The council had initially planned to limit the number of venues to two, but in the eleventh hour ruled that there would be no limit on the number of strip clubs in Sheffield.

Two years ago the authority settled out of court, conceding that councillors and staff had failed to take gender equality into account, but again renewed Spearmint Rhino’s licence the following year, despite almost 100 objections.

If the latest judicial review succeeds it would force the authority to change its policy and would force the club out of the city, where it has been based for 16 years.

In a letter in national newspaper Irene Gladdison, 54, who has brought the action against Sheffield City Council and wrote under a pseudonym, said: “I believe that strip clubs make women less safe. That’s why I’m taking Sheffield Council to court for refusing to consider the negative impact on women and gender equality in the community when they came up with their policy of unlimited strip clubs, despite local people bringing it to their attention.

“In fact, I and many others think that strip clubs are harmful to both women and men, and are not the kind of places that we want within our communities. Research shows that strip clubs are linked to increased harassment, as well as women not feeling safe around these sites at night.

“It worries me that by having a policy that allows an unlimited

number of strip clubs Sheffield Council, which has a legal obligation to promote equality, is dismissing the concerns of local people and is refusing to taking a stand on sexual objectification and normalised misogyny.

“A High Court judge has looked at our case papers and decided that it is arguable that Sheffield City Council didn’t properly meet their duty to consider the impact on gender equality of their new policy to have an unlimited number of strip clubs. What is more,

the judge has decided that my case is of public importance and should be considered by the court.”

She is using a crowdfunding site to raise cash towards the legal fees and has so far raised £1,337 towards the £10,000 target.

Alison Boydell, from the Sheffield branch of campaign group Not Buying It, said: "The location is completely inappropriate - It's smack bang in the middle of the cultural industries quarter of the city, close to Sheffield Hallam University, the students' union, and

the Site Gallery. The whole area has changed drastically since Spearmint Rhino started its operation in Sheffield 16 years ago. There is student accommodation that backs onto it and more student accommodation in the surrounding area.

"It's open from 10pm to early in the morning and I don't honestly see how that contributes to the local economy.

"Strip clubs also promote very harmful and damaging attitudes towards women. There is often an allegation levelled at us that we are against the women that are working there - that we are trying to put them out of a job - and we're not. With the tree protesters,

nobody is saying that they are putting tree fellers out of work, or that anti-smoking campaigners are impacting on jobs in the tobacco industry.

"Many women have said how unsafe they feel walking around that part of the city and how it impacts on their freedom of movement around the city, and it's unacceptable for women for women to have to avoid an area that is right in the centre. To us, the argument that

closing Spearmint Rhino would just drive the trade underground is very flimsy. And even if it does, they are then breaking the law and the police can take action."

The court case is expected to be heard in June.

In a separate development, Sheffield City Council is set to discuss the re-licencing of Spearmint Rhino in meeting set to take place ten days before the planned judicial review. It is not yet known whether the meeting will still go ahead, or will be suspended until after any subsequent legal ruling. The authority has been asked to clarify the position.

Sheffield City Council has also declined to comment on the pending court case.

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