Tuesday 29 May 2012

Newquay Lap Dance Claims Wrong

Via Lori Smith, I was alerted to this claim last week by police in Cornwall that a lap dance venue license application should be rejected because such clubs 'might' cause sexual violence. As Lori points out over on BitchBuzz, this is territory I've covered before: the widely-publicised claims that lap dance clubs in Camden caused more rape turned out to be false.

Of course the statistics for a specific area of London over a certain number of years are only that: specific to London and those years. It's dangerous to take a trend for one area, at one point in time, and generalise it to all places at all times. In order to claim that "Factor X causes Outcome Y" you need a lot more data. In the book I set out some comparisons, then, with London and other locations summarising what we know from the scientific literature, national statistics, and so on.

So what's interesting is that The Sex Myth discusses not only the situation in cities like London but also specifically, as coincidence would have it, Newquay.

In another report of the non-story, the Telegraph repeated a claim by Newquay police that "there were 69 reported sex crimes within a mile radius of the club [Divas] between January 2010 and February this year, which also included 15 cases of indecent exposure and six "other" sexual offences."

Check the location of Divas in Newquay. Within a mile radius of the club you have... virtually all of Newquay, as it happens. Correlation and causation fail.

Guess what? The link between lap dance and sexual violence that the police claim 'might' exist? Not only does it not exist, local media in the Southwest have already reported on this.

In 2010, the Newquay Voice obtained Devon and Cornwall Constabulary’s figures of sexual assaults. They found that the total number of recorded sexual assaults (including rapes) in and around Newquay peaked at 71 in 2005, the year before Newquay's first lap dance club opened. In 2006 however,  following its opening, the number fell to 51.

In 2007, when the town’s second lap dancing venue opened, the total number of recorded sexual assaults fell again to 41, then dropped to 27 in 2008 when a third lap dancing club opened. In 2009 the number rose slightly, but with a total of 33 offences, it is still less than half the total than before the clubs appeared.

Using publically available population data, I took these figures and calculated the incidence rate (since population varies from year to year as crime stats do, if you don't calculate a rate, the numbers are not very informative). Here are the incidence rate calculations using midyear population levels for the council of Restormel where Newquay is located:

Looking at these numbers, you'd be tempted to think that lap dancing actually reduces sexual assault. In other words the opposite of what the BBC article claims.

This like the Camden trend is only a single example. Making such a broad conclusion would be rash – in order to conclusively demonstrate that an increase in lap dancing corresponds with a decrease in rape and sexual assault, there would have to many more such results, over longer time periods, from many places. It does reinforce what the statistics from Camden show: lap dancing does not correlate with higher occurrence of rape. And if there is no rise in rape, then it is impossible to claim that lap dancing “causes” rape.

While my figures come from official published data that at the time of collection only went up to 2009, it's interesting to note that the Telegraph story claims there were '14 rapes in the last two years'. Which, if true, is not only a massive decrease on the numbers from the previous years, but also goes against everything implied by their article. If only they'd bothered to compare the data against previous years!

Unfortunately, the myth that sex work causes violence has become so deeply embedded in media and criminology storytelling that one only needs to raise that dread spectre for a city council to take such claims seriously. In spite of the fact that the real data are easy to find and analyse, and the local papers in Cornwall have already suggested the opposite to what the police claim is true, the police and BBC don't seem to notice or care.

In the end it looks as if the council rejected the application. St Austell and Cornwall MP Stephen Gilbert tweeted that this was "a victory for people power". And indeed if the rejection was made because the majority of residents decided they did not want it, then so be it. Nothing wrong with not liking things for the simple reason that you don't like them.

But consider that the information put about by police and reported by the BBC is misleading and poorly researched. What if, instead of the council's main criterion being what residents preferred, the decision was made because of police and media scaring people with potential crimes that turn out not to be true at all?  I don't know about the good folks of Cornwall, but where I come from, that's called lying.