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“Hooters” so-called restaurant and the sexualisation of children

It’s no good the Tory led government getting all up in arms about the so-called sexualisation of children – action is what is needed, not hand wringing. And the last Labour government has given us the tools to get on with the job.

Sexualisation of children is happening right here in the centre of Bristol, according to fresh allegations this week about the so-called “family restaurant” Hooters.

It’s worth remembering, first, that the Labour government has already done a very thorough and practical review of the sexualisation of children, carried out very ably by Linda Papadopoulos, who worked with specialists on child abuse, on sexual abuse of adult women and girls, with people who understand the issues. Her report was published in 2010. Read it and you can see the utter waste of money that has been the recent report, as there is nothing new to add from the CEO of Mother’s Union, other than the Tory party can say they are doing something. However, she also showed clearly the link between sexualised imagery of women and girls and violence against women and girls. This week’s report also recommends the banning of sexualised imagery in “places where children are likely to go”. Where don’t children go?!

Let’s be clear about what we already know: sexualisation isn’t just bad for children, it’s bad for adult women. It increases sexual harassment of women inside and outside Sexual Entertainment Venues and it promotes attitudes which support treating women as sexually available for satisfying men’s sexual demands on demand. My own experience of working with men who abuse their partners is that this sort of imagery is a key aspect of supporting their ideas, which they think are “just being a normal bloke” about sex and women’s sexuality. It’s bad for them as well, because it sets up unrealistic and ultimately unsatisfying fantasies about what sex isn’t.  So it’s no good saying “if you don’t like it, don’t go” – it affects us all.

Sexualisation of children has (allegedly) been taking place in Hooters in the form of sexualised gifts to children’s birthday parties, the use of a cake featuring women’s breasts for a child’s birthday cake in the restaurant and the recent “bikini contest” which took place in the early evening, contrary to the licensing conditions it has agreed to abide by.

So here’s a thing: licensing laws now do allow local authorities to treat sexual entertainment venues (SEVs) as, well, sexual entertainment venues, instead of pubs and clubs as they had been hitherto. So it’s no longer true that council licensing departments and councillors on the licensing committee can’t do anything about licensing lap dancing and other establishments which are basically predicated on the sexualisation of women and girls. This means theycan no longer say “no-one objected and it’s not near a school, so we can’t stop them even if we wanted to” to offer when it comes to SEVs.

Our own council, sensibly, voted to adopt the provision last year.  Many of us were delighted that they took this step, entirely consistent with the gender equality duty. Hooters managed to get away with not being identified as a SEV, which means they can get round this. Licensing committee members tell me that there were no substantive formal objections to the license, other than from the police. As a result of the objections raised by the police, conditions were attached to the license and it was duly granted without further formal objection.

Licensing officers and councillors on the licensing committee can reasonably therefore point out that there were no further formal objections of which they can take legal notice.

However, Hooters has now, allegedly, broken these conditions. Furthermore, the Council has a strategy to prevent violence against women, has a gender equality action plan and legal obligations to promote gender equality. It also has the rights, voluntarily accepted, to treat SEVs as specific cases and impose stricter conditions on them than formerly.

Licensing committee therefore can do the following:

  1. Review the license currently in operation for Hooters – particularly in the light of the allegations about them breaking it. It doesn’t seem to be necessary to wait for a formal complaint to have been made in order to investigate breach of license.  Furthermore, I know for a fact that some members of the public have in fact complained to the committee that the license has been breached. I’m one, but not the only one.
  2. Review the original decision not to treat Hooters as an SEV. They have clearly demonstrated the contrary. They should therefore be treated as such and their licensing conditions revoked and new ones drawn up.
  3. Review the licensing of all SEVs in the city. This doesn’t mean a blanket ban, but it does mean reviewing the impact of SEVs on the safety of women generally, the protection of children from sexualisation and the impact on the city of having such venues operating.

There are many specialist organisations in the city of Bristol who would gladly offer their expertise to the licensing committee to assist with this process. There are many MANY female and male people in the city who are outraged and angry about the acceptance of SEVs as an inevitable part of 21st century life. I know that Labour councillors (and my own Green councillor) are concerned about this as the last Labour government was. I hope  and believe that we can have a productive review of the situation as soon as possible -that’s certainly the indication I have been given by my colleagues on the council.

If you want to make your feelings known, contact the licensing committee and copy in your own councillors.

You can also sign the e-petition.

This isn’t about being moralistic, or prudish, it’s about gender equality, the safety of women and the sexualisation of children.

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