Stripping the licence: updates on the campaign to close Sheffield’s only strip club

A lead campaigner fighting for the closure of Sheffield’s only strip club has said the Labour party should support them.

Sheffield’s branch leader of the Women’s Equality Party (WEP) campaigning against Spearmint Rhino Charlotte Mead, explained why she thinks Labour should support their cause.

Ms Mead said: “First of all, choices aren’t made in a vacuum. We understand as a society that not everybody is born with the same opportunities and privileges. The opportunities that are available to us are what determine our choices. The way for women to get out of poverty is to take their clothes off for men. It’s just outrageous.”

WEP Sheffield has been fighting to revoke the licence of Spearmint Rhino since 2015. They presented graphic evidence from an undercover investigation conducted by Not Buying It showing it has been breaching its licence, in a speech to a full council meeting earlier this month.

Dancers at the club have been breaking the law surrounding the touching of customers and each other, according to the evidence. The licence states that dancers should only touch customers and each other above the chest and with their hands.

Labour councillor Neale Gibson tweeted his shock at Charlotte’s ‘bizarre speech’ shortly after the meeting ended.

Bizarre speech from a petitioner in Sheffield Council meeting today when a report of an alleged incident in a lap dancing club was read out with no warning of the explicit content. It was an odd thing to do especially as it’s the cross party committee that sets the policy.— Neale GibsonAboAnber (the real one) (@nealeggibson) April 3, 2019

The Walkley councillor is also the director of Mowbray Accounting, which is associated with a business called Escorts R Us among 150 other companies.

Mr Gibson said he welcomes an inquiry into the legal allegations against Spearmint Rhino, but expressed strong support for the sexual entertainment industry as “the oldest profession in the world.”

Mr Gibson said: “The oldest profession in the world is prostitution.

“I do not think the venues are a problem and I am in favour of brothels as well. There is nothing wrong with licencing sex entertainment venues because they are a business.

Mr Gibson argued if Spearmint Rhino loses its licence, the kind of behaviour found there “will just carry on somewhere else.”

He added: “I have also had messages from the women who work in the club, saying they did not give permission to be recorded and that they were quite upset by it. They told me it’s their choice, they like the tips they get and they are paying off their student loan.

“I do not think it’s up to me to tell people what they should or should not do, but to make sure they are protected and are safe if they do make these decisions.”

Hundreds have signed a petition to Sheffield council supporting the dancers, arguing that “sex work is work”.

Charlotte Mead challenged the Labour councillor’s views as contradictory to the principles of his party. WEP also stress they did not conduct nor commission the investigation.  

Ms Mead said: “A huge percentage of girls and young women say they are sexually harassed in public. Places like Spearmint Rhino say it is ok for men to treat women like this, to sexualise and objectify them for their needs, and buy consent from them. Then these men are in our streets, working in our hospitals, in our courts, running our businesses.

“The findings detailed by the investigators clearly show the links between the so-called acceptable part of the sex industry, sexual entertainment and prostitution. They are a continuum of the same line.

“Neale Gibson, as a member of the Labour party should understand that, and if the council wants to continue licencing SEVs in Sheffield they need to stand up and say what they bring to the community.”

Sheffield Labour have been contacted for a statement.

Spearmint Rhino is located on Brown Street, in view of Sheffield Hallam student union.

People passing on the street had mixed views on the campaign to close the club.

Brett Clifton, an English Language and Linguistics lecturer at Sheffield Hallam supports the campaign.

Ms Clifton, 55, said: “I’ve heard very few problems with it. It’s so quiet, I never even realised it was open. But I’ve always thought the location was inappropriate right next to the university.”

Retailer, Wayne Biney, supports the existence of strip clubs but thinks Spearmint Rhino’s alleged licence breaches should be looked into.

Mr Biney, 54, said: “Should there be a strip club in Sheffield? My answer is probably, but whether it should be on a university campus is another matter.

“It’s an industry like any other. It provides employment, as long as it’s not exploitative and the people who work there freely without any duress by either partners or club owners.”

Sarah Cairns, a 39-year-old solicitor, said: “It’s not ideal being next to the student union – students are at a very impressionable age, so it’s not the best positioning for it. But they are everywhere, there’s nothing we can do to stop it really.”

Spearmint Rhino’s licence is reviewed yearly, and it was passed by a committee of six people, five of whom were men last year. WEP plan to present their case to the council’s licencing committee before its review this year.

The future of Spearmint Rhino will be in the hands of councillors chosen in tomorrow’s local elections.