Revoke Leicester University’s ‘Student Sex Work Toolkit’

Revoke Leicester University’s ‘Student Sex Work Toolkit’

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Nordic Model Now! started this petition to University of Leicester and

The University of Leicester has introduced a student sex work policy and two toolkits (one for staff and one for students) and has obtained funding from the ESRC to roll them out to universities across the UK.

These documents claim to be aimed at supporting “students who are sex workers” but they read more like a guide to getting into the sex trade and fail to provide substantial support for students in difficulties.

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?

Would a toolkit for students who are drug users fail to warn of the potential harms of drug use? Would it exclude any mention of support to quit drugs? Would its list of organisations that help drug users include only those that are lobbying for the full decriminalisation of all drugs? Of course not.

While the documents don’t explicitly promote prostitution as a reasonable response to students struggling to pay their tuition or halls of residence fees, that is the implicit message. By using the “sex work” terminology, the documents frame prostitution as a normal form of work and not as the violation of human rights recognised under international law.

Freedom of information requests have revealed that the university took a very narrow view of the potential impact of the policy and toolkits and considered only the impact on those who are already involved in the sex industry. They did not consider that vulnerable female students might interpret the advice as the university sanctioning involvement in the sex industry as a positive way of paying their halls of residence fees and other university expenses, and that this could lead to more young women entering the sex industry and being harmed within it and further disadvantaged.

The university did not consider other possible consequences of framing the sex industry as a positive option – for example, that male students and staff might interpret this as the university sanctioning the buying of sex and could lead to men increasing or starting sex buying activity. They didn’t consider how this might affect men’s understanding of consent and the impact of this on their intimate partners, and on relationships between men and women generally. This is unforgiveable – particularly as we are currently witnessing an epidemic of male violence against women and girls, especially in universities and colleges.

We maintain that when developing the policy and toolkits, the university neglected its responsibilities under equality law to work to eliminate the disadvantage, discrimination and harassment of women and other protected groups, and to work to improve relations between men and women generally. We maintain that they failed to ask the questions necessary to fulfil their responsibilities as an educational institution or to consult with an appropriate range of different representatives, leading to a narrow and unrepresentative perspective on the sex trade and its implications for students.

We call on the university to revoke the policy and toolkits and to return to the drawing board – this time centring women’s human right to not be prostituted, dehumanised and objectified, and the sex industry’s role in the promotion of dehumanising, objectifying, and sexist practices and behaviour.

We also call on the ESRC to withdraw funding from the project to roll the policy and toolkits out to other institutions.

Further reading

Quote on the image

Call me old fashioned, but I was sold the notion that going to university was supposed to be one of the ways a woman could get as far as she possibly could from ever needing to sell sexual services.” – Grellbunt, Fri 11-Dec-20 16:23:43

This quote is by a Mumsnet user called Grellbunt, which she posted on a Mumsnet thread discussing the University of Leicester toolkit. It is reproduced here with permission.

Supporting organisations – UK

  1. Nordic Model Now!
  2. Aurora New Dawn
  3. Campaign Against Porn Robots
  4. CEASE UK
  5. FiLiA
  6. For Women Scotland
  7. INSPIRE VAWDASV Consultancy & Training
  8. The Judith Trust
  9. London Feminist Network
  10. Manchester Feminist Network
  11. Men At Work CIC
  12. Merched Cymru
  13. Northern Radfem Network
  14. Not for Sale in Scotland
  15. Object
  16. Radfem Collective
  17. Rooms of our Own
  18. Swansea Feminist Network
  19. White Ribbon UK
  20. Women@thewell
  21. Yes Matters

Supporting organisations – International

  1. 1000 opportunities/1000 Möjligheter (Sweden)
  2. Anti Pornography and Prostitution Research Group (Japan)
  3. Associazione Iroko (Italy)
  4. Association Mémoire Traumatique et Vitimologie (France)
  5. Bulgarian platform - EWL (Bulgaria)
  6. Center Against Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Lithuania)
  7. Centre for Women War Victims - ROSA (Croatia)
  8. Coalition against Trafficking in Women Australia
  9. Comisión para la Investigación de Malos Tratos a Mujeres (Spain)
  10. DA:NCE(dance awareness: no child exploited) (USA)
  11. Embrace Dignity (South Africa)
  12. End Demand Switzerland
  13. Femmes pour le Dire, Femmes pour Agir (France)
  14. Fondation Scelles (France)
  15. Greek League for Women's Rights (Greece)
  16. Hungarian Women's Lobby (Hungary)
  17. initiative feministe euromed IFE-EFI (France)
  18. Initiative STOPP SEXKAUF (Austria)
  19. International Centre on Sexual Exploitation
  20. Italian Coordination of the European Women's Lobby (Italy)
  21. KAVOD (Austria)
  22. Klaipeda Social and Psychological Support Centre (Lithuania)
  23. La Coalición Regional contra el Tráfico de Mujeres y Niñas en América Latina y el Caribe (CATWLAC)
  24. Le Monde selon les femmes (Belgium)
  25. Libres MarianneS (France)
  26. Lo omdot meneged – assisting women in the cycle of prostitution (Israel)
  27. Lobby Europeo de Mujeres en España-LEM España (Spain)
  28. Maisha e.V.-African Women in Germany
  29. Malta Women's Lobby
  30. Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies (Cyprus)
  31. Missing Persons’ Families Support Centre (Lithuania)
  32. Myth – Life after prostitution (Israel)
  33. Network of East-West Women, Poland
  34. NMI (Israel)
  35. Observatoire féministe des violences faites aux femmes (Belgium)
  36. People Serving Girls at Risk (Malawi)
  37. Perla Organization (Switzerland)
  38. Portuguese Platform for Women's Rights (Portugal)
  39. Realstars (Sweden)
  40. Regards de femmes (France)
  41. Resistenza Femminista (Italy)
  42. Réussir l'égalité Femmes-Hommes (France)
  43. SERP - The Sexual Exploitation Research Programme, University College Dublin (Ireland)
  44. Sexual Violence Centre Cork (Ireland)
  45. Society Kljuc - centre for fight against trafficking in human beings (Slovenia)
  46. SOLWODI Deutschland e.V. (Germany)
  47. TERRE DES FEMMES - Menschenrechte für die Frau e. V. (Germany)
  48. TFHT – Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution (Israel)
  49. Todaa (Israel)
  50. Trauma & Prostitution (Germany)
  51. Université des Femmes (Belgium)
  52. Victorian Women's Guild (Australia) 
  53. Women’s Museum in Moscow (Russia)
  54. Women's Network of Croatia

If you would like to add your organisation’s name to this list, please email: nordicmodelnow@gmail.com.

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