SEX-for-sale saunas in the Scottish capital should be openly licensed, it was claimed today.
Conservative councillor Joanna Mowat said it was time to end the policy of turning a “blind eye” to brothels operating within Edinburgh’s saunas.
Police in Edinburgh generally only raid saunas where prostitution is suspected to be going on if a specific complaint is made.
But Cllr Mowat said she was “uncomfortable” sitting on council’s regulatory committee while it turned a ‘blind eye’ to the sex trade.
She said the committee was “clandestinely” approving brothels while “pretending we are licensing saunas and it’s all about water temperatures”.
Cllr Mowat said: “This is an area I’m deeply uncomfortable with.
“On the one had we have pushed prostitution off the streets so it doesn’t stare people in the face, but we are turning a blind eye to what is going on indoors.”
She added: “If we are going to tolerate the licensing of brothels, which is essentially what we do, perhaps we should actually license brothels.
“Part of the regulation would be to ensure that the girls, or men, are not trafficked, that they are tested, that they have access to medical support and that workers can go in if they want a way out of this.
“At the moment there is an industry the council is complicit in, but it is not doing anything to support those working within it.
“I sit on the regulatory committee and I watch us clandestinely doing this, pretending we are licensing saunas and it’s all about water temperatures.”
She continued: “It’s just something we do. We are not doing anything illegal. What we do is correct and above boardbut there is something else going on in some case and it is a grey area.
“The situation has evolved rather than officially being a position anyone has taken.
“It’s a huge can of worms and I don’t think it would be particularly popular to open it all up, but it is worth having the discussion.”
Mowat said she had supported calls from independent MSP Margo MacDonald to allow tolerance zones for prostitution.
The Prostitution (Public Places) (Scotland) Act, passed in 2007, makes it illegal to solicit a prostitute for sex.
It remains illegal to run a brothel, but there are around 20 saunas and massage parlours with public entertainment licenses in the city.
The legality of any transaction between a sauna worker and a customer remains a grey area.
Jenny Kemp, coordinator of anti-violence against women charity Zero Tolerance, said: “Prostitution is defined by the Scottish Government as a form of violence against women and harmful to all women.
“A lot of people are not comfortable with what is going on.
“If anyone still thinks it’s acceptable to purchase sexual services from women, that’s undermining gender equality.
“Our concern is the licensing process is not very robust at all.
“Many sauna licences, because they are renewals rather than new applications, are rubber-stamped and don’t go to committee unless objections are raised, but most people don’t realise there is an opportunity to raise objections.”