In March, Parliament accepted new licensing laws making strip shows illegal in Iceland. According to the new laws which took effect on July 1, the promotion of nudity to attract customers to a particular venue or event, private dancing and the fraternisation of clients is also now illegal.
There is, however, an interesting exception to this law: if a strip club acquires a good report from local authorities such as the health and safety authorities, and the police, it can be given exemption from the ban. While stripping has been made illegal, prostitution was recently legalised. So, what is the motive behind these new laws?
“The main purpose of the act was to simplify the procedures in order to obtain licenses for restaurants and hotels and to reduce the number of licenses applicants must obtain,” says Ragna Árnadóttir, Deputy Permanent Secretary of Legal Affairs at the Ministry of Justice. Katrín Jakobsdóttir, vice-chair of The Left Greens, expressed her support for the ban on stripping: “It’s a very good step that private dancing has been banned.” However, Jakobsdóttir has some reservations about the legalisation of prostitution. “We’ve fought against prostitution and we would have liked to see the law go a step further towards the Swedish model where the buying of these services [prostitution] is illegal because the women who are in this business are usually not there by choice. Members from all parties apart from the conservatives have favoured a law put forth by [MP] Kolbrún [Halldórsdóttir] to move towards the Swedish model. So we can say that this is the diplomatic solution,” she adds.
Árnadóttir explains that one of the reasons for making prostitution legal is that individuals who have been forced into prostitution will be more likely to come forward and lead police to those responsible, knowing that they cannot be punished by law. According to Árnadóttir, it is illegal for a third party, or pimp, to organise the prostitution of others or make money from the prostitution of others as well as the renting of facilities for prostitution.
Waiting for an Explanation
During the first week under the new laws some of the strip clubs the Grapevine visited were still open. At one of the clubs visited, admittedly on a weekday evening, the music was still blaring but the club and stages were virtually empty. A lone stripper sat quietly with the bartender at one end of the bar, while the two body guards stood hunched over at the other. Surely, this is not what a strip club is supposed to look like. “We don’t know what will happen yet,” they say when asked how the new laws will impact the running of their business.
Reykjavík Chief of Police Stéfan Eiríksson explained the reason for this.
“Nothing has really changed […] they can offer the same services as the wording hasn’t really changed. The strip clubs in Reykjavík can stay open as they are operating on their old licenses,” he says. According to lawyers at Reykjavík Police and the Ministry of Justice, those clubs which were already legally offering stripping can continue to operate until July 1, 2009.
Eiríksson says that while there have been no major changes as far as the role of the police as a supervisory authority is concerned, the laws will make their job easier. “The laws are much clearer so if something is not in accordance with the law the possibility of closing down a club, if it is not properly licensed or not acting accordingly, is clearer,” he explains.
Ásgeir Davíðsson, owner of the strip bars Goldfinger and Bóhem (Iceland’s first erotic club), doesn’t seem to think that the new laws will have an impact on his businesses. “No one understands how it works. We are waiting to hear. We’ll find out from the police – they will tell us what we can and can’t do. But I think everyone will be happy,” he says. The finance manager of Club Óðal in downtown Reykjavík says that they have received legal advice that the new laws are unlikely to affect their business.
Davíðsson has also been quite vocal about the new laws which legalise prostitution but ban stripping. “I think this is very very stupid,” he says. “It is impossible for me to understand. I don’t think that the members of Parliament that are making these decisions have much in their heads. It’s very confusing. At the end of the day we will have to be fully clothed at the swimming pool.”
The new law reaffirms that private strip shows are illegal. Prior to the new laws taking effect, private shows were also banned, but Goldfinger has and at the time of writing still does offer private shows on the legal technicality that the law stipulated that private shows could not take place behind closed doors, but mentioned nothing about curtains. “I know that I have been working in a grey area and why, [but] I’m not working illegally as far as my lawyers tell me,” Davíðsson says.
Eiríksson rejects rumours that there may be a loophole in the new law that could allow strip clubs to continue to offer stripping in the form of private shows: “There is no problem with the interpretation of the law. In such places strippers can not walk around guests. There can be no private dancing – it states that clearly,” Eiríksson says.
Davíðsson is awaiting a verdict from the court in relation to whether he will be able to continue to offer private dancing on this basis. The verdict is being decided at the time of writing.