University of Brighton SU leads the way by offering support to sex workers
Brighton SU's President explained that the stall was there to offer advice, rather than to promote sex work.
With rising living costs and inadequate student loans, three quarters of students are now turning to part-time jobs to fund themselves at university.
According to our latest National Student Money Survey, this includes 3% of students who use adult and sex work to earn money – a number which rises to 4% when students are faced with a cash crisis.
It's important for student sex workers to be able to access the help and support they need to work safely, yet the University of Brighton's Students' Union has been criticised by some for allowing a sex workers' support group to appear at its freshers' fair.
Following media attention, a University of Brighton spokesperson said they are "exploring the matter further" with the students' union, and that they do "not promote sex work as an option to students."
Support for student sex workers
The Sex Workers' Outreach Project (SWOP) appeared at the Brighton Uni freshers' fair to offer support to student sex workers, and to inform them about safe practice and legal issues.
The organisation, part of the Brighton Oasis Project, defines itself as:
A discreet and confidential and trans-inclusive service for women working in the sex industry.
We aim to promote and improve the health, safety and wellbeing of sex workers in Sussex.
They offer a wide range of services from STI screening and sexual health advice, to information on the law and sex worker rights, and incident reporting.
— SWOP Sussex at Brighton Oasis Project (@SWOPoasis) September 27, 2018
Why students are turning to sex work
Many students have reported that rising living costs, insufficient Maintenance Loans and the scrapping of Maintenance Grants have made funding a university degree harder than ever.
Our research found that the average Maintenance Loan is £170 a month less than the average student living costs, meaning many students struggle to get by while they study.
Three quarters of students turn to their parents to boost their income, but this isn't an option for many students – meaning they need to find funds elsewhere.
Standing up for sex workers' rights
While many applauded the decision to offer student sex workers support, some critcised the move, believing the stall to be promoting sex work.
Author and journalist, Julie Bindel, said the stall was "beyond disgraceful" and that the University should launch an inquiry, while MP Sarah Champion perceived the stall to be "grooming" students.
However, many have refuted these arguments, saying that offering advice to student sex workers is not the same as encouraging students into sex work, and the priority should be making sure student sex workers have access to the support they need.
Ensuring that sex workers don't know their rights, don't have access to supportive peers, don't know how to make their working conditions as safe as possible !!!WILL NOT!!! stop students from selling sex. It will, however, make it more and more dangerous.
— Continental Algebra (@spacecommunism) September 30, 2018
sex workers having access to health & support services is a good thing. services often do outreach, which means meeting people where they at, like freshers’ fairs. outreach is a good thing. people are not going to be “enticed” into sex work bc they met a support worker.
— molly smith (@pastachips) September 30, 2018
Brighton SU president, Tomi Ibukun, also emphasised the fact that the stall was aimed at providing support for those who need it, saying to The Sunday Times:
SWOP was at our freshers' fair event to raise awareness of the specialist support they provide should it ever be needed.
It is unfortunate that some people have misinterpreted the attendance.
SWOP took to Twitter to clarify their reasons for attending the freshers' fair
SWOP have never idealised sex work. However, we understand why students may turn to sex work, and navigating the legal precariousness as well as potential danger mean that students are extra vulnerable and we will help. We hope every student had a wonderful Fresher's Week 🙂
— SWOP Sussex at Brighton Oasis Project (@SWOPoasis) September 28, 2018
Do you think universities should be doing more to support student sex workers? Let us know in the comments.