Row over sex workers' support group prompts university investigation

Posted on: 2018-09-30 15:45:00

The University of Brighton is launching an investigation after a sex workers’ support group ran a stall offering help for students at its freshers’ fairs.

The decision to allow the Sex Workers’ Outreach Project Sussex (Swop) to attend events in the city and at the university’s Eastborne campus on Tuesday and Thursday was described as “beyond disgraceful” and criticised online.

Swop, which also said it attended the University of Sussex’s life and wellbeing fair on Wednesday, defended its actions.

On Sunday, a University of Brighton spokesman said it would be launching an investigation and “does not promote sex work to its students”.

The Swop stalls offered condoms and leaflets as well as inviting visitors to “come and play” on a “wheel of sexual wellbeing”. The group is part of the Brighton Oasis Project charity and describes itself as a “discreet and confidential” service for women in the sex industry who live or work in Sussex.

In a series of tweets it promoted its attendance, Swop said:

It also tweeted:

Among critics of the idea was feminist campaigner and writer Julie Bindel, the co-founder of the law reform group Justice for Women.

She said: “This is beyond disgraceful. It makes me so angry that the sex trade’s become normalised and pimped to women as though it is a harmless and respectable way to earn a living. There should be an enquiry by the university into this.”

Swop defended its position, and said it had 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.”

It said it was not encouraging or suggesting that students become sex workers but cited academic research about students in sex work and said Swop would offer “support and advice without judgment”.

Some academics and students have come to the defence of Swop. Alison Phipps, professor of gender studies at the University of Sussex, thanked the group for its great work; Dr Gemma Ahearne, a lecturer and sex industry researcher at Liverpool John Moores University, said Swop’s work was amazing.

Parker Robinson, student union’s vice-president of academic experience at Brighton, said: “It is great knowing there are services available ready to help students through difficulties they might be experiencing.”

In a tweet he added: “Obvi youre not suggesting people become sex workers, but rather youre supporting those who already are and get them into a safer place.”

Tomi Ibukun, president of the student’s union which organised the event, told the Sunday Times: “Swop was at our freshers’ fair event to raise awareness of the specialist support they provide should it ever be needed.

“They were not there to advocate sex work as an option to our new students. It is unfortunate that some people have misinterpreted the attendance of Swop at our freshers’ fair.”

In a statement the University of Brighton said: “The freshers fair is an event organised by students for students and as such is managed by the students’ union.

“The university is nevertheless exploring this matter further with the students’ union to allow us to gain a full understanding of the aims in inviting Swop to the event and to ensure due care is taken when presenting students with third-party information on highly sensitive and emotive issues.”

Source: The Guardian

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