A university’s online ‘toolkit’ which claims to support students who are ‘sex workers’ has sparked fury from campaigners who say it is more like ‘a guide to getting into the sex trade’ – and want to stop its spread to other institutions.
The University of Leicester introduced a student sex work policy and toolkit last year, offering advice to students about engaging in sex work, and advising staff on how to appropriately handle the topic.
The toolkit outlines which sex industry services are legal and which are illegal, advising students that soliciting sex on the street, managing a brothel and sharing premises with another sex worker are prohibited.
But, students are told, stripping, sex chat phone lines, selling underwear online for sexual gratification, ‘butler in the buff’ and ‘sugaring’ – being a paid companion for a ‘sugar daddy’ – are legal.
Staff are provided a list of dos and don’ts, being advised to ‘be aware of specific terminology and legal context of the adult entertainment industry’ and ‘expect their involvement with the sex industry to be hidden due to risk of stigma/judgment’.
They are warned against assuming the student wants to leave sex work, ‘listening to or perpetuating myths’, or ‘patronising’ when discussing their involvement.
A petition which launched in June and now has more than 10,000 signatures, says Leicester has obtained funding from the ESRC to roll them out to universities across the UK, and calls for the toolkit to be revoked.
The University of Leicester introduced a student sex work policy and toolkit last year
The toolkit outlines which sex industry services are legal and which are illegal, advising students that soliciting sex on the street, managing a brothel and sharing premises with another sex worker are prohibited, while stripping, sex chat phone lines, selling underwear online for sexual gratification and ‘sugaring’ (being a paid companion for a ‘sugar daddy’) are legal
The authors write: ‘Picture this: a young female student is being coerced into the sex industry by her boyfriend to fund his drug habit.
‘She turns to the toolkit for advice but there’s no guidance about protecting herself from coercion and pimping. There’s not even a mention that they are common in the sex trade.
‘What about a young woman who realises she’s made a terrible mistake and wants to get out? Again, no help whatsoever.
‘The toolkits fail to mention a single organisation whose primary focus is helping women quit the sex trade.
‘None of the organisations listed view prostitution as a form of gender-based violence – as both a cause and consequence of the enduring inequality between the sexes – and all favour the full decriminalisation of the industry.
‘Warnings about the well-documented physical and psychological harms that prostitution causes? Total silence. Signposting to guidance on budgeting, hardship loans and grants, and other employment options? Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
‘How can this be justified?’
Staff are provided a list of dos and don’ts, being advised to ‘be aware of specific terminology and legal context of the adult entertainment industry’ and ‘expect their involvement with the sex industry to be hidden due to risk of stigma/judgment’
A petition launched in June, which now has more than 10,000 signatures, calls for the toolkit to be revoked
They add that the university did not ‘consider other possible consequences of framing the sex industry as a positive option’, for example that it might lead to male students interpreting this as a ‘sanctioning’ of the purchase of sex.
Geoff Green, Registrar and Secretary at the University of Leicester, told MailOnline: ‘We are aware that some students may decide to undertake different types of sex work for a number of reasons, and this is a reality at universities across the world.
‘Our priority remains the care and wellbeing of all students, who have the right to be safe and free from harm whether they are studying or working.
‘The resources for students focus on personal safety and freedom of choice, and Leicester-led training in this area has engaged close to 1,000 staff at more than 60 universities to date.
‘A Report + Support service is provided for all members of the University of Leicester community to make anonymous disclosure to a trained team of support advisers if they believe they, or someone they know, may be at risk of harm.
‘Safeguarding procedures mean advisers are also trained to recognise the signs of coercion, and are equipped to provide appropriate support on an individual basis in cases such as these.’
MailOnline has contacted the ESRC for comment.