University of Leicester launches student sex worker toolkit

University of Leicester launches online toolkit for staff to stop them making ‘moral judgements’ on student sex workers – but feminist writer says women should be told how ‘harmful’ it is rather than being supported

  • University of Leicester has launched the Student Sex Worker Policy and Toolkit
  • Aims to tackle any issues with student wellbeing and inclusivity at the heart
  • But appearing on Woman’s Hour, a feminist writer said approach was ‘troubling’ 
  • Journalist Sarah Ditum said women should be warned about how ‘harmful’ it is

The University of Leicester has launched a student sex worker policy and toolkit to ensure staff don’t ‘give moral judgment’ – but the supportive approach has been criticised as ‘troubling’.

Professor Teela Sanders, who teaches criminology at the higher education establishment and is the woman behind the initiative, appeared on today’s episode of Woman’s Hour to talk to host Jane Garvey about the importance of the strategy.

‘We’re talking about inclusive learning, we’re talking about not discriminating against somebody, not being judgemental if you find out your student’s doing sex work, or they’ve been outed or being blackmailed,’ she said on the BBC Radio 4 show.

But feminist commentator Sarah Ditum claimed it is ‘inadequate’ if universities engage in the issue of student sex work from any other perspective than it being ‘enormously harmful to women and having a really toxic influence on men as well.’

Next week, the university will be launching its Student Sex Worker Policy and Toolkit, which has been created with the help of the Student Support Services and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion teams.

‘The policy and toolkit at Leicester will be used to showcase how these sensitive issues can be tackled with student wellbeing and inclusivity at the heart of policy and practice development,’ the event website about the launch read.  

The University of Leicester has launched a student sex worker policy and toolkit (pictured, the launch event) to ensure staff don’t ‘give moral judgment’ – but the supportive approach has been criticised as ‘troubling’

‘Student wellbeing and health and safety is really quite pivotal, we know that from this year and this is an area where it often gets swept under the carpet,’ added Professor Sanders.

‘Universities don’t like to talk about it very often but it’s really important to think about the students who do engage in sex work and are taking university degrees.

‘The point is really that sex work is generally legal, it’s a legal activity between two consenting adults and universities are not there to give moral judgment in relation to what people do.’

Professor Teela Sanders (pictured), who teaches criminology at the higher education establishment and is the woman behind the initiative, appeared on today’s episode of Woman’s Hour to talk to host Jane Garvey about the importance of the strategy

She continued: ‘Often [student sex workers] will come to university staff [about their issues] and university staff don’t necessarily know what to do.’

However, the supportive approach was criticised by journalist Sarah who urged the higher education establishments to concentrate on helping students avoid turning to sex work in the first place. 

‘I think it’s very important that universities are able to engage with the fact that students are getting involved in the sex industry,’ she said. 

But then added: ‘I think it’s completely inadequate for universities to do that if it’s not from the perspective that the sex industry is enormously harmful to women and has a really toxic influence on men as well.’

She continued: ‘I think the nature of the economy means that students really are going to be likely to turn to the sex industry more than ever before. The service industry is under huge pressure and that’s always been traditionally where you would go to for a part time job.

‘So things like escorting or OnlyFans or sugar daddies websites are going to seem increasingly appealing.’

As such, Sarah suggested that universities should be ‘giving the message that these are not safe, empowering, secure ways to make money. They are actually exploitive sites of abuse and dangerous things for women to get involved in.’

But feminist commentator Sarah Ditum claimed it is ‘inadequate’ if universities engage in the issue of student sex work from any other perspective than it being ‘enormously harmful to women and having a really toxic influence on men as well.’ Pictured, the University of Leicester

The journalist noted that it’s most likely women who are 18 to 20-years-old who are looking to use the sex industry to support themselves, and might not be at an age where they are fully equipped to make the decisions that will impact their adult life. 

‘It’s so, so troubling that things like OnlyFans or like webcamming are perceived as less harmful as they actually expose the women who engage in them to potential lifelong blackmail and retraumatization,’ she added.

‘If you’re not able to talk about the real life consequences this stuff can have then universities are really letting their students down.’

But for Professor Sanders, she insisted it is now time to take her approach into universities as a ‘duty of care’. 

She said: ‘We have to remember that students have always looked for part time work… [and] the sex markets have changed. 

‘When we talk about sex work, people think about direct personal services, but the sex markets have changed rapidly over the last ten years. Lots of people working online, lots of people doing non direct sexual services.’ 

MailOnline has contacted the University of Leicester for comment. 

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