Police Scotland has written to Edinburgh City Council arguing that if it grants licences for five saunas it should be on condition that no items of a sexual nature are allowed on the premises.
Sex workers’ charity Scot-pep has condemned the police proposal saying it could lead to an HIV epidemic. A council decision on new licence rules could end Edinburgh’s more tolerant attitude to the sex trade.
Campaigners for a safer sex trade have said that any ban on condoms would not stop people having sex but it would result in unprotected sex and higher rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
Earlier this year, six other saunas had their licences suspended following raids across Edinburgh.
Nadine Stott, a board member of the charity Scot-Pep, which campaigns for the rights of sex workers, said: “This goes against all basic common sense. It also places Scotland really out of step with the rest of the world.
“The World Health Organisation (WHO) just last week released guidelines on sex workers and HIV that specifically stated where countries use condoms as evidence of sex work that should be stopped immediately.”
She added: “We are really shocked that, in private, the police have been quite clear to us. They said that the policy (on saunas) wasn’t changing.
“We think this highlights how inappropriate the police are as a regulatory body of sex workers in a criminal context.”
A Police Scotland spokesman said: “Police Scotland recently provided reports to the Council Regulatory Committee in respect of a number of public entertainment licence renewals.
“In cases where there was evidence of criminality or premises operating out-with the conditions of their licence, objections were made to those licences being renewed.
“Police Scotland will continue to work with partners to inspect and report on licensed premises operating within Edinburgh in order to keep people safe.
“Whenever criminal activity, or licensing contraventions are detected within these venues, officers will respond appropriately and report all offences to the relevant authority.”
Prof Alison McCallum, NHS Lothian’s director of public health, said: “For many years, we have provided sexual health services, mental health services, hepatitis immunisations and drug and alcohol support in accessible clinics for sex workers.
“Over the last year this has involved more than 300 consultations with women.
“We promote safe sex and awareness of infections amongst sex workers.
“Condom use is always advised and condoms are made freely available.”
Deborah Jack, chief executive of National AIDS Trust, said: “Making condoms a reason to lose a sauna licence will not stop sex, it will stop safer sex and put at risk often very vulnerable people.
“Edinburgh led the way in the early years of HIV in harm reduction, pioneering clean needle programmes in the UK for people who use drugs and halting the spread of HIV in that community.
“We urge the city now to remember that proud heritage and not penalise condom use.
“It would be the worst sort of public health own goal.”
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