Allowing lap dancing bars and sex clubs to open in Perth and Kinross could lead to an increase in crime and put women at risk, a rape crisis charity has warned.
Councillors have agreed a new policy that would require so-called Sexual Entertainment Venues (SEV) to be fully licensed, meaning they will now be subject to strict regulations.
However, the bigger question of how many SEVs should be allowed in the area will go out to further consultation.
Charities are asking for the local authority to essentially ban them by capping the number of premises at zero. They say allowing even one or two clubs would send out a troubling message.
At present, there are no such venues in the region.
Jen Stewart, manager at the Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre Perth and Kinross, said: “Equally Safe, Scotland’s strategy to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls is clear in its identification of commercial sexual exploitation as a form of gender based violence against women.
“Any agreement to license sexual entertainment venues above the number zero would directly contradict this strategy, which is set out by COSLA and the Scottish Government.”
She said: “We know through our work that there are many myths surrounding sexual entertainment venues, which often consider involvement to be a choice and perceives activities such as stripping or lap dancing to be entertainment.
“Such myths perpetuate harmful attitudes towards women, in normalising and promoting the notion that women’s bodies are a commodity to be bought and sold.
“The reality is that for many women involved in commercial sexual exploitation there is often no free choice, and links to trafficking and prostitution, as well as an increased risk of harm from other forms of violent and non-violent crime exist.
“We therefore consider that the presence of such venues in Perth and Kinross would put women and our wider communities at risk.”
Members of the licensing committee unanimously agreed to license SEVs at their meeting on Thursday and called for a formal policy to be prepared.
It followed a consultation earlier this year that showed the majority of participants (67%) didn’t want any such clubs at all.
Conservative councillor Roz McCall raised concerns that not enough people were consulted.
“There didn’t seem to be a huge response. It certainly is very conclusive, but I wonder if we could have done more to get more participation on it.
“Its such an emotive issue, I’m surprised more people didn’t want to get involved.”
A full policy statement will be drawn up and consulted upon, before being brought back to the committee for approval.