Seeking other academics concerned by student sex work

(86 Posts)
PhilosophyOnlyRidiculous Thu 18-Mar-21 10:46:16

Hello. I'm an academic at a UK university, and am worried about this push to make universities "sex work friendly", and by the development and promotion of sex work "toolkits" (e.g., by University of Leicester, who also collaborate with the university I work at).
Obviously, I'm all for supporting students who are working in the industry, and absolutely do not feel any negative judgment towards the individuals who do.
But surely there are better ways of approaching this than the apparent encouragement in these toolkits? The promoters of these talk about "reassuring" students that what they're doing is legal, and say that universities should support students to balance studies with their sex work.
I get that the guides/toolkits are meant to be realistic about the fact that students WILL do this, and to reduce risk - and that's great. But I really don't think that's all they do.

Just wondered if any other academics are with me on this?

OP’s posts: |
PhilosophyOnlyRidiculous Thu 18-Mar-21 10:52:06

Here's a link to the University of Leicester's Sex Work Policies (for both students and staff):

reportandsupport.le.ac.uk/support/student-sex-work

OP’s posts: |
PhilosophyOnlyRidiculous Thu 18-Mar-21 10:54:05

And, perhaps more to the point, the "Toolkits" which go with the policies.

OP’s posts: |
Nonsensetower Thu 18-Mar-21 10:55:11

I'm also concerned about this. There are many student jobs that are lucrative but dangerous (taking part in medical trials, for example) but I can't remember ever seeing 'toolkits' for those. The arguments for doing this are spurious. Only a tiny minority of students engage in sex work. The motivation seems to be a drive to normalise prostitution and indeed to objectify and degrade female students by reminding them and everybody else on campus that women's bodies can be bought for sexual gratification. Women students don't need to be reminded of this, they need to focus on getting their degrees. I wish the university had poured the money spent on this toolkit into student hardship funds or first generation student scholarships.

PhilosophyOnlyRidiculous Thu 18-Mar-21 10:57:06

Nonsensetower

I'm also concerned about this. There are many student jobs that are lucrative but dangerous (taking part in medical trials, for example) but I can't remember ever seeing 'toolkits' for those. The arguments for doing this are spurious. Only a tiny minority of students engage in sex work. The motivation seems to be a drive to normalise prostitution and indeed to objectify and degrade female students by reminding them and everybody else on campus that women's bodies can be bought for sexual gratification. Women students don't need to be reminded of this, they need to focus on getting their degrees. I wish the university had poured the money spent on this toolkit into student hardship funds or first generation student scholarships.

Hi @Nonsensetower, thanks for posting.

It doesn't actually seem very rare (5% of students seems to be the best estimate; this includes online work, stripping, and "direct services" - prostitution).

OP’s posts: |
PhilosophyOnlyRidiculous Thu 18-Mar-21 10:57:55

The work seems to be funded by the ESRC, so it's not just the university promoting it...

OP’s posts: |
WinstonsWeirdVole Thu 18-Mar-21 11:01:34

Student here, and I completely share your concerns about this. IMO the normalization of sex work among students is particularly irresponsible in the current climate where so many of the “typical” jobs that students do to support themselves (retail, hospitality) are no longer available and sex work may therefore seem like the only option for some. FWIW the (female and male) academics I know (including one at the university you mention) are really depressed by this and see it as a massive backwards step. Of course students who do sex work should be have access to MH support etc at university, but I fail to see how legitimizing sex work among a financially vulnerable cohort is going to help anyone in the long term.

Advertisement

YetAnotherSpartacus Thu 18-Mar-21 11:04:36

I tried to approach mine with a research proposal to find out more about why this happens and what we can do to give students other options.

The student union (male president) knocked me back quick smart.

That was a decade ago. I suspect it has got worse since then.

ChattyLion Thu 18-Mar-21 11:06:29

We need to have a massive campaign to go back to student grants. It’s an investment that we need to make as a nation, especially post-Brexit if we’re supposed to be some kind of leading information and life sciences based economy.. we need an educated workforce.

PhilosophyOnlyRidiculous Thu 18-Mar-21 11:07:22

HI @WinstonsWeirdVole. Many thanks for posting. It's a relief to hear that at least some students are critical of this. I really am worried about the future, as well as current, wellbeing of students this has been normalised for.

OP’s posts: |
PhilosophyOnlyRidiculous Thu 18-Mar-21 11:08:25

YetAnotherSpartacus

I tried to approach mine with a research proposal to find out more about why this happens and what we can do to give students other options.

The student union (male president) knocked me back quick smart.

That was a decade ago. I suspect it has got worse since then.

Blimey, @YetAnotherSpartacus - that's scary. I wonder how many others are/have been scared away from this research area....

OP’s posts: |
ChattyLion Thu 18-Mar-21 11:09:11

Sorry I know that doesn’t help immediately.
I agree 100% with everything everyone is saying here though. It’s a massive safeguarding issue if students are doing sex work surely, not something to affirm. In the short term universities should commit to waiving fees when students are in dire financial straits with the government reimbursing them.

PhilosophyOnlyRidiculous Thu 18-Mar-21 11:10:08

ChattyLion

We need to have a massive campaign to go back to student grants. It’s an investment that we need to make as a nation, especially post-Brexit if we’re supposed to be some kind of leading information and life sciences based economy.. we need an educated workforce.

Yep - putting effort into supporting students financially without having to go to these extremes should be a focus.

The financial disempowerment of students must be a dream come true for those who profit from or use the sex industry...

OP’s posts: |
ChattyLion Thu 18-Mar-21 11:10:14

And provide free mental health support because of the negative effects of sex work on mental health

ChattyLion Thu 18-Mar-21 11:14:30

And it needs to be backed up by messaging in secondary schools about how dangerous and exploitative and abusive the sex industry is. And that OnlyFans etc IS ‘the sex industry’.

YetAnotherSpartacus Thu 18-Mar-21 11:15:10

I have had students who I know have been engaging in commercial sex.

One was way back in the 90s. She claimed it did not affect her because she was a lesbian. It was a way of taking from men while she did not have to give emotionally. She ended up having a breakdown.

Others since then have all claimed it is empowering or about pleasure. Guess what - all have diagnosed MH issues stemming from childhood trauma and abuse.

PhilosophyOnlyRidiculous Thu 18-Mar-21 11:24:10

YetAnotherSpartacus

I have had students who I know have been engaging in commercial sex.

One was way back in the 90s. She claimed it did not affect her because she was a lesbian. It was a way of taking from men while she did not have to give emotionally. She ended up having a breakdown.

Others since then have all claimed it is empowering or about pleasure. Guess what - all have diagnosed MH issues stemming from childhood trauma and abuse.

Yep. I've encountered very similar, @YetAnotherSpartacus. For a long time, I wanted to buy into the empowerment narrative, but it has been empirically impossible.

OP’s posts: |
YetAnotherSpartacus Thu 18-Mar-21 12:03:34

Yes - but not buying it makes you whorephobic - so watch out!

Nonsensetower Thu 18-Mar-21 12:18:53

Where's that 5% figure from?

And I agree absolutely that students who engage in sex work should be supported, especially given the well-known adverse psychological consequences. But a 'toolkit' sends a different message. I think it contributes to an environment that is inherently degrading and demoralising.

PhilosophyOnlyRidiculous Thu 18-Mar-21 12:26:06

Nonsensetower

Where's that 5% figure from?

And I agree absolutely that students who engage in sex work should be supported, especially given the well-known adverse psychological consequences. But a 'toolkit' sends a different message. I think it contributes to an environment that is inherently degrading and demoralising.

Sagar, T., Jones, D., Symons, K., Tyrie, J., & Roberts, R. (2016). Student involvement in the UK sex industry: Motivations and experiences. The British journal of sociology, 67(4), 697-718.

Think the 5% figure is from here (though has been corroborated, I believe). Probably higher now, apparently, since covid, etc

OP’s posts: |
Babdoc Thu 18-Mar-21 12:28:19

Here in Scotland, many students starting uni are under 18. My DD was one of them. She was not allowed into many venues such as nightclubs.
The uni has a duty to such students, and is in loco parentis. I imagine Social Services and the police would take a dim view of you encouraging and facilitating these children’s employment as prostitutes.

PhilosophyOnlyRidiculous Thu 18-Mar-21 12:36:25

Babdoc

Here in Scotland, many students starting uni are under 18. My DD was one of them. She was not allowed into many venues such as nightclubs.
The uni has a duty to such students, and is in loco parentis. I imagine Social Services and the police would take a dim view of you encouraging and facilitating these children’s employment as prostitutes.

Yes, @Babdoc. I'm not sure about the police - not great on protecting women, and there are plenty of things which are legal to do in terms of selling sex (but are still potentially hugely damaging for individuals' wellbeing).
But the idea of being a part of processes/institutions which encourage vulnerable, young people (and so many ARE vulnerable and young - and it's not disempowerment to say so) into selling sex chills me to the bone. I feel we have to do something, to protect women like your daughter and her whole generation, but what?

OP’s posts: |
persistentwoman Thu 18-Mar-21 12:37:13

It really is a predator's dream isn't it? All these 18 year olds arriving with varying degrees of life experiences and facing this.
Who is behind it do you know OP? Are there particular groups pushing this narrative?

Wildswim Thu 18-Mar-21 12:38:38

Gosh that's appalling.

YetAnotherSpartacus Thu 18-Mar-21 12:39:56

The uni has a duty to such students, and is in loco parentis. I imagine Social Services and the police would take a dim view of you encouraging and facilitating these children’s employment as prostitutes

Honestly? I don't think they'd care. So many workers are underage - many come from the care system (and so no one cares about them, least of naice parents of naice progeny who have attained university places).

I don't think anyone here is facilitating it either.

Join the discussion

To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.

Join Mumsnet

Already have a Mumsnet account? Log in