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Melon Farmers



17th July
2008
   Clip Joints Clipped...

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Clip joints on the way out in London's Soho

Clip jointIn the last two months, Westminster Council licensing inspectors have raided and closed down two illegal hostess bars, which lured men in under the false premise of adult entertainment then charged them exorbitant rates for soft drinks in the company of hostesses. One of these hostess bars was also an illegal gambling club.

Clip joints, as they are informally known, have previously circumvented licensing legislation by not selling alcohol or offering adult entertainment, despite displaying garish signs such as “sexy girls”.

But following extensive lobbying from Westminster City Council, the LLA Act 2007 (London Local Authorities Act) means the venues now need to apply for a sex establishment licence if they wish to continue trading, putting them under the control of the local licensing authority for the first time.

Two years ago there were eight clip joints operating in Westminster but tough enforcement by Westminster Council and the Metropolitan Police for breaches of planning and health and safety regulations has led to the closure of six.

 

Text Messages Warn of Clip Joint
 

Potential victims will be warned about Soho rip off bars.

 
From the Daily Mail see full article
2nd September
2007

 

The Soho Cabaret

Beware, clip joint!
The Soho Cabaret
Great Windmill Street

Text messages and emails warning passers-by they are entering an area where clip joints masquerading as sex bars operate are to be sent out under a pioneering new scheme.

Westminster City Council will use Bluetooth technology to send a message about the dangers of Soho's notorious clubs to the owners of mobile phones or BlackBerrys who wander within a 30-metre radius of three venues.

Twilights clip joint

Beware, clip joint!
Twilights
Rupert Street

The warning reads: £5 to get in, £500 to get out. Criminals operate some of the hostess bars in Soho. Don't enter without knowing what you'll get for your money.

Clip joints are a well established Soho scam and Westminster has been campaigning for years to drive them out of the West End.

Customers are lured inside with false promises of "adult entertainment" - only to find a shabby room, no bar and no entertainment.

Illusions clip joint

Beware, clip joint!
Illusions
Great Windmill Street

They are presented with huge bills for entry and soft drinks and menaced into paying. Those who refuse risk being frog-marched to cash machines.

Westminster's initiative will see the message issued between 500 and 1,000 times per day, targeting the last three remaining clip joints in the area - Twilights in Rupert Street and Illusions and The Soho Cabaret in Great Windmill Street.

A Westminster spokesman said: "It's hard to close them down. They are unregulated and do not need a licence because they do not sell alcohol or provide any entertainment: It's difficult to gather evidence against them because anyone who does come a cropper is too ashamed to go to the police or council. In the past we have managed to close them down using property laws and health and safety laws. For example, we can shut them down if they don't have proper fire exits. The remaining ones will go eventually but in the meantime we need to warn people about them.

People will be asked if they want to read the message from the council before it is displayed in full. The technology allows it to be sent out only once to each device. Leaflets warning people about the bars are also regularly distributed in the area by the council.

 

Soho hostess reveals all
 
By Alison Roberts, Evening Standard
27 October 2003

So why don't trading standards and police regularly go in undercover and sort these thugs out?

 

I meet Angela not half a mile from where she works in Soho. Later this evening, she will change out of her girl-next-door outfit and put on a very short skirt and small bikini top. She will strap on six-inch heels over fishnet stockings and apply a thick layer of scarlet blusher. Then she will stand in the freezing cold outside a spangly curtained doorway and try to entice men into one of London's notorious "clip joints".

With the help of a burly "security man", Angela explains calmly over morning cappuccino, she and her colleagues will then rob these men of anything up to £3,000 each. Angela, the 24-year-old "hostess" or " doorgirl", will "entertain" four or five "customers" per night, and earn from £800 to £1,000 this week for her part in a simple, brutal and highly illegal racket. Despite the money, Angela has promised herself that she will give up her criminal career by the end of the year and get out of Soho before she becomes "unable to look at myself in the mirror".

For this reason she has decided to talk to the Evening Standard - the first clip-joint girl to break cover and describe the scam from the inside. An article in the paper earlier this year exposing the "clubs" caused a brief but dramatic downturn in business, she says. "I've been thinking about leaving for a long time. I don't care much about most of the men we rip off, but I do know that what we're doing is wrong."

Up to 20 such illegal sex clubs exist in London's most intractably seedy quarter, a triangle to the south of Soho including Great Windmill, Rupert and Brewer streets. In recent years the police have had some success in reducing crime in the area and closing unlicensed premises. But the lucrative clip joints still flourish. As Angela coolly explains, and as the police confirm, unless the male victims of this type of vicious extortion come forward and report the crime, there is little anyone can do to stamp it out.

Angela claims that she "fell into" the sex industry, and the clip-joint business, almost five years ago when she first came to London - perfectly legally, she says - from her native Poland.

She arrived with dreams of starting her own business, like her parents who own a couple of grocery stores. First she had to learn English - it is now excellent, spattered with a colourful Soho vernacular - and after that, she enrolled on a business degree course at London Metropolitan University. With fees for non-British students and living expenses of £12,000 a year, Angela quickly realised she could not live on waitressing alone. So she and a Polish friend answered an advert in an expatriate news-sheet promising profitable rewards for attractive young women prepared to "look after" men in Soho clubs.

Until she turned up for the " interview" and saw "the pictures of naked women" that decorated the walls of the bar, Angela, then just 18, says she assumed that "looking after" meant "talking to lonely men and keeping them company".

Now she has her business degree, why does she stay? "Why do any of the girls in Soho stay?" she replies. "Some have been there 10, 15, 20 years. It's the money, of course. Some of the girls are from good English homes, from lovely families. They even live at home and tell their parents they are going out for the night with friends, and then come to work in Soho.

I don't know how their mothers do not see the make-up they wear or the little dresses ... But can they earn £1,000 a week as a junior office assistant-In a shoe shop? Of course not. She also admits that many of the girls who work the clip joints are addicted to hard drugs - heroin, crack and cocaine - and are trapped in this way of life by their habit.

The clip-joint racket - Angela prefers the term "rip-off" - combines the often unfulfilled promise of sex with simple blackmail and the threat of extreme violence. The crime is all the more remarkable for its exploitation of extraordinary male naivety, and its relatively sophisticated use of various " subcontracted" services around Soho.

The con trick begins when girls like Angela attract a "customer" into the premises by offering a striptease or a massage for as little as £5. "Are they dumb?" she asks, laughing. You're not going to get anything for that price. She then leads him downstairs to a dingy bar, often furnished with no more than two or three tables, and offers him a drink.

It is at this point that the man begins to discover what he has got himself into. Of course, the "striptease" costs substantially more than £5. The girls, says Angela, are highly adept at judging a man's income and vulnerability to blackmail from his appearance, and are allowed to deviate from an unofficial price list according to their own assessment. "It's people-management," says Angela gleefully.

A striptease might, in fact, cost between £100 and £600, depending on the cards in a man's wallet, the existence of a wedding ring on his finger or in his pocket (the security men will search a customer if he refuses to pay) or his nationality. We call Americans ' piggy-banks', but the Japanese and the Malaysian men are the very best because they always carry so much cash.

The doorgirls talk to their customers for a while, perhaps half an hour, and explain the costs while the man drinks. Half the men are British and half are foreign, mostly tourists and businessmen, says Angela. You make conversation, ask them what they are doing in London. He might say he is here on holiday. Perhaps he has left his wife and children shopping at the Trocadero mall and wandered off to see the sights. We have 'cocktails' of orange juice and Ribena while they drink champagne or beer. They think we're drinking alcohol with them, but, of course, if we did that, we would get drunk very quickly."

What the men do not know at this point is that each glass will cost precisely £250. That's the standard price across most of the clubs. We tell them they're paying for my company, to sit with me and talk to me. He has one drink and no show, he pays £250. He has two drinks, it's £500. He has two drinks and a show, he might pay £800 or £1,000. The most I have seen a man pay for two hours in the club is £3,000.

The floor shows are performed by strippers who "freelance" from club to club. In a single night these girls will often walk around Soho for several hours, says Angela, visiting the clubs in turn at the request of the "hostesses" or doorgirls and pocketing a meagre £30-£50 for each performance.

Angela knows them all, but claims that she herself does not strip. If a man wants sex, then the clip joints lease the services of yet another freelance performer. The security man will take the customer to a prostitute in a nearby flat - they have unwritten contracts with a number of women in the area - where the woman receives another £30 to £50 and the clip joint takes the bulk of the fee. Of course, the men have to pay first. If they don't like the look of the woman, they still have no option but to pay.

Most customers do not have enough money in their wallets to pay up front, so the security men - most are Eastern European or Maltese - march them to a cash point and wait while they extract the fee. Those that refuse are threatened with a severe beating. Whether or not they carry out that threat depends on the club, Some don't want the aggro and prefer the straight blackmail route. Most customers will have something to lose just by entering a place like that.

We have cameras and we tell them they are on film. We look for the weakest point in a man, usually the fact that he is married. A lot of men are so stupid they think it's their fault they have got into the mess, and it's just easier to pay up. Sometimes I feel sorry for them It is pathetic to watch them when they see their bill. I have seen men down on their knees begging a hostess to let them go, saying that their wives will find out if they take that much money out of their account.

She pauses and smiles at me. I'm not that bad, I try to be kind. If a man comes in and it is clear that he cannot afford it, I tell him to go immediately, before anyone sees him.

But, yes, there is a lot of violence, too. Customers who "get heavy" with the girls are often beaten up, says Angela - who goes on to describe an extraordinary incident in which a man was so badly beaten, she claims he later died in hospital. The police say they have no knowledge of this, but Angela maintains that the murder could never have been proved and that the men responsible are still at work in Soho.

Whether or not she is telling the truth, the fact remains that many "customers", particularly those who attempt to pick a fight themselves in response to demands for money, are violently "mugged" for their cash. It's incidents like these that have convinced Angela to leave Soho. This is not how I was brought up, or what my parents would like me to do. They would be horrified if they knew. The men we rip off may be very stupid indeed. But I am not.

  

Sex Sells: The Soho Peep Show Rip Off

Through the keyhole of a Soho peep show What goes on behind those seedy doorways advertising naked girls for loose change? One woman who works at a peep show in the heart of London's sex district gives the inside story

By Rosalind Powell

From The Mirror

April 28th 2001 

(For visitors to London beware, practically every 'show' in Soho is a rip-off. Far better a trip to Shoreditch where the striptease scene is live and kicking)

 

The sign outside promises live naked girls for pounds 1. But for expectant customers looking for a bargain, this proves to be a disappointment. Not only do the girls keep their knickers on, but the punters also have to pay twice the price for the privilege of looking at them. Competing with strip bars, lap dancing clubs and services now available on the Internet, desperate measures are needed to lure men off Soho's Brewer Street and up the shabby carpeted staircase into one of Britain's few remaining peep shows. A makeover would certainly help. With its orange decor, red carpet, mirrored walls and tinsel curtain, it looks like a 1960s film set - you half expect Michael Caine to walk in for a word with the guv'nor.

The sex industry's equivalent to the dirty postcard, the services offered are equally antiquated. For £2, men can stand in one of six darkened cubicles and for 50 seconds peep through a rectangular perspex slot the size of a letter box while a topless girl gyrates on a bed. As the pound coins are fed into the slot there is a creak and the wooden flap covering the window lifts up. The 'wall' dividing the 'bedroom' and the punter's cubicle is made from thick cardboard, through which the girls and men can hear each other talking. The girls can also see the men as they are being watched.

It's tame stuff compared with some of the other sex shows on offer in the area and business isn't exactly booming. It doesn't even cover the rent or the wages at the moment, complains the manager, a troubled-looking man wearing white plimsolls and sovereign rings.

Two girls at a time work in a room just big enough to hold two double beds, positioned in front of a mirrored wall and divided by a red velvet curtain which, like the bed sheets, has seen better days. Each bed backs on to three cubicles which are constantly monitored by security cameras. On the wall is a clock, a tube map and a notice which reads: '£5 will be deducted from your wages for every ten minutes you're late.' This seems a bit steep, considering the girls are paid a mere £45 for a six- hour shift. I do feel a bit sorry for them but they don't have to do much, do they? says the manager. They only have to lie on a bed. They read, have tea - it's not that hard.

Nancy, 20, agrees. I'm probably making the same amount of money working four shifts here as I would full-time in a bar, she says. In what other job can you choose your hours and take home a reasonable amount of money and still be left with free time?

A drama student from Cornwall, Nancy has been working at the peep show for four months. The money goes towards her college fees and as she waits for clients on the bed, wearing a dangerously high pair of heels and looking fleshy, curvy and vampy, she writes her coursework essays. In her civilian clothes, sitting in a local cafe, she looks like a typical student with vermilion hair, red lips, blue nails and tortoiseshell glasses. In repose her face is serious, almost sullen, and she talks about her job with casual detachment. Ask what a nice middle-class girl like her is doing in a place like this and you get a pat response. 'It's just a job,' she insists.

A friend who worked at the peep show suggested she tried her luck there when she heard that Nancy was looking for part-time work. 'The fact that it was a peep show was never an issue,' she says, sipping her hot chocolate. 'Even now I don't really see myself as part of the sex industry. A lot of the girls here are students, or travelling, and we all see it as a means to an end. I can detach myself from what I'm doing and not think about what's going on on the other side of the wall.'

What she does once the money has gone into the slot and the flap of the cubicle lifts is governed by strict rules, as the place is licensed only for 'music and dancing'. 'You basically pose,' she says, with an embarrassed laugh. I'll probably start on my knees, gyrate around a bit, then turn round and stick my bum in the air, then possibly lie down and put my legs in the air and do the splits. It's that unexciting. You're not even thinking What shall I do next? as you do the same thing so many times.

In the grubby kitchen next door there are tacky leather thongs and red lace teddies on sale for £20. The clients can buy them and ask the girls to wear them, although Nancy hasn't been asked to do this yet. A lot of people expect a lot more than dancing - they want to see legs spread. You get drunk lads coming in who'll shout, Take your knickers off, but we're not allowed to do anything like that. You might run your hands over your bum but you're not allowed to touch anything down below - no, no, no. I think that's why the cameras are on us, to check that we're not doing anything like that, but also that we're not asleep.

That's not to say they can't sleep while they're not working - with only about a quarter of their time spent entertaining clients (Nancy estimates it at 100 minutes per shift), there is plenty of time to read, chat on mobiles, eat chocolate, make tea and gossip. They are not meant to leave the room unless they need to go to the loo. If someone you know well is on the other bed, time passes really quickly, she says. Even work won't interrupt a conversation. We just carry on. Sometimes they'll shout, Oi! I can hear what you're
saying.But what do they expect for £2?'

However, the girls are on show and, as such, are literally exposing themselves to criticism. Sometimes when there's a big group they'll look at both girls and compare you. They'll say things like, Which one do you think's better? and it's horrible,' Nancy says, looking vulnerable for the first time. 'I was on the verge of tears once as I heard them say, She's fucking ugly. For the rest of the evening I didn't want people to come into my booth. But as my boyfriend says, the kind of men who visit peep shows - particularly drunk wankers - aren't the kind of men whose opinion matters. I wish I was strong enough, that it didn't affect me, but it does, it really does.

At least the girls have some small means of retaliation. 'I know girls who will shut the flap if the blokes look obnoxious, or are pulling particularly disgusting faces. Another girl I know will just turn her back. Sometimes we'll point and laugh at them. Or if I'm working with another girl and she says, Eergh, he's horrible, I'll peer around the curtain and pull a face,' Nancy says, curling her lip to demonstrate. But there's another side to it.You can feel desired, I suppose, or at least confident or attractive, because people are paying to look at you. Sometimes it's nice after several hours of silent scrutiny to get the odd drunk bloke going, Cor, she's nice. It reminds you that they're human. But most of us don't take this remotely seriously, or care that much what anyone thinks.

Nancy's shortsighted and considers it an advantage not to be able to see the client. But whatever the girls do to distance themselves from the men, they can't escape the seediness. After all, the private, individual cubicles are there for a reason. 'Sometimes their heads jerk around and you can hear them thumping the wall, If you'd told me a couple of years ago that there'd be someone masturbating just in front of me I'd be like eeuurk. But you get to the point where you think it's normal. All men masturbate, and it's not as if you have to watch. It's a natural function and in some ways it's better they get their release in that way than by doing horrible things to people, don't you think?

What surprises her most is that, apart from the odd few - like the man who holds up his own handwritten instructions to the peephole (which are too disgusting to print) - most of the customers are what she calls 'Mr Average'.  You'd think they'd be the dirty mac brigade but the majority are businessmen who work in the area, respectable-looking family men in suits. You know it will get busy between 1.05pm and 2.05pm as it's their lunch break. It's the same at four and five o'clock when they finish work, and sometimes first thing in the morning as well. That's the first thing they do - it beggars belief. What's going through their heads? Are they sitting behind their desks, thinking, Ooh, I can't wait, I can't wait?' she pauses, before adding, 'Sometimes I think, Aren't men peculiar?'

But she insists that the experience hasn't put her off the male of the species. She has a boyfriend who is 'fine' about what she does, and, as she reasons, Any man I'd choose to be involved with wouldn't be that sad as to get worked up about it. But she knows her work attracts a fair number of undesirables. It's worried me at times, as you look at people and can see that they're smiling or having a good time, while others stare at you with such intensity that they look disturbed. I imagine it can be a breeding ground for men's fantasies and that violent or mentally ill men will be attracted to it. That, she admits, makes her uneasy - especially when she's become the main focus of attention.

Unlike other girls, Nancy has never been approached in the street by her clients. 'I'm lucky like that,' she says. Two men waited for one girl on different occasions but they were young and polite, and simply wanted to say, I really liked what you did. Have you got a boyfriend? But as Nancy admits, You can't help thinking that if it's possible for nice men to do that, then it could also be possible for men who aren't so nice.

Her mostly relaxed attitude - I'm not shocked by very much - could be as much down to bravado as it is bored disdain. She denies that she's attracted to the voyeuristic nature of her work. I'm not shy, but I'm not an exhibitionist, It's not that I enjoy people looking at me, but I have no fear of it. I also think it's healthy to have a more relaxed attitude towards nudity, which is something British people don't have - we're so uptight about it.

Many of the girls she works with have become friends, which helps create what she calls 'a sense of community'. A lot of them say, The body is a beautiful thing, so why not show it?, which is nice as it gives your own reasoning validation. She claims never to have stumbled across any hint of prostitution or drugs while she's been working, or been offered to take her services further - let alone been tempted. It wouldn't even occur to me, I haven't met one girl at the peep show who would have sex for money, not one. And I have met at least 30 or 40 girls.'

Recently she's been tiring of the job. Not because of the sexual aspect, or the nudity, or because I'm disgusted, It's just the monotony. She certainly doesn't want to be doing it in ten years' time. For the moment, however, she'll continue to fuel her clients' fantasies.



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