"I felt so bad, so violated ..."

‘I felt so bad, so violated. I’ve never been so humiliated in my life’: Women who work in Edinburgh’s saunas talk to SCOT-PEP about THEIR experience of the recent raids.

Media coverage of recent raids on several of Edinburgh’s saunas has focused on alleged criminal activity and the Council’s licensing arrangements.  HERE we give a VOICE to the women who were most affected by the raids.

Women, who are not breaking any laws by working in the saunas, have described how they were strip-searched, subjected to degrading and intimidating treatment, and held without food or water for up to seven hours. Money and personal items such as phones were confiscated, in many cases without explanation or being shown a warrant, even when they asked to see it. Several women told us that the officers involved in the raids tried to put words in their mouths and incriminate the managers. Tellingly, one woman was told by a police officer that they were ‘not as soft’ as the usual local police who visit the saunas.  What is perhaps even more worrying is that several other agencies accompanied Police Scotland on these raids, including organisations that claim to protect women from abuse.

Here is just one very shocking account, in her own words:

Two female officers came into the room and told me not to move. I was told to take my clothes off, I was wearing a top and a skirt. Then I had to take my pants off, and my bra. I was told to lean against the bed with my legs spread so they could search. When I was in this position, completely naked, a male officer pushed the door open and walked in. As soon as I realised what was going on, I tried to cover myself. I covered my breasts with my arms. He never apologised and neither did the women. I feel I didn’t have a choice, and they were going to arrest me any minute, for absolutely nothing. I felt very bad, so violated. Imagine if you were completely naked and a man walked in. I’ve never been so humiliated in my life. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. We were all separated from each other and I wasn’t told what was happening. They never showed me a warrant or anything. They interviewed us and a held us for about four and a half hours. We weren’t allowed to eat or drink. We couldn’t leave the sauna. I feel so let down by the police. They’re meant to be protecting us”.

Another woman was told, when she asked to see a warrant:

you are not reading anything, sit there, shut up, and wait to be interviewedall our personal property was searched, I was searched, and our mobile phones were seized. I have not made any headway in recovering my phone, as any time I have enquired about it, no one in any of the police stations I’ve spoken to knows where our property is being kept”

She emphasised to several of the police officers that: “[this sauna] is a licensed premises and I am happy to work here.” She concluded: “I found the entire process very intimidating.”

Another woman described the raid on the sauna she was in:

“they never showed no warrant and never explained what the visit was for. They went through our handbags, our rooms, no explanation. I had cash, which I explained the reason for, but they took it, and various other items, I don’t know where they were taking it to, we received no receipts, and then we were individually strip-searched, no explanation, for six hours and forty-five minutes we had no food, when they left the building, no explanation, no receipts, and no legal advice.”

SCOT-PEP has been in touch with Police Scotland several times in the last few weeks since the raids and additional inspections occurred.  We have raised all of these concerns and more.  The police say they have not received any complaints from women involved in the raids.  This is hardly surprising considering the experiences reported to us above and the resulting position these women find themselves in – scared of losing their jobs, being subjected to more degrading treatment at the hands of police officers and the additional fear of their work in the saunas being made public.  SCOT-PEP has also had many calls from people terrified that their workplace might be next to be raided and that they will suffer similar treatment.

In light of these horrifying accounts, questions need to be asked about the strategy deployed by Police Scotland in these raids.  We think it is unacceptable that women were left feeling violated and intimidated.  None of the women we have spoken to have been arrested, charged or found guilty of any offence.  All they did was go to work.  If this approach is indicative of the ‘blunt tools’ Police Scotland are prepared to use in supposedly ‘intelligence-led’ raids, we must all strongly question if this is the mark of a civilised, democratic society that we wish to see in Scotland.


press [at] scot-pep [dot] org [dot] uk

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