In July we launched a petition calling on the University of Leicester to revoke its ‘Student Sex Work’ policy and toolkit because they implicitly normalise prostitution and will, we are convinced, lead to more vulnerable young women being drawn into the sex trade and harmed and further disadvantaged by that experience. Not to mention that it will groom young men as consumers of the sex trade, which is likely to exacerbate the unhealthy attitudes known to be associated with sexual harassment and misconduct.
Worryingly, the team at Leicester has secured ESRC funding for a three-year project to roll this approach out to universities all around the UK. They have already delivered training to hundreds of students and staff at dozens of universities.
If you haven’t already signed the petition, do please consider doing so.
We are honoured that 21 UK organisations and 55 international organisations have lent their official support to the petition.
Below we publish a selection of the brilliant comments that people left on the petition explaining why they were signing it.
71 reasons for signing
Signed ’cos few things scream “class war” loudest to my ears than the notion of “sex work”. Signed for working class women, for marginalised women, for women in and of the global south.
The female body is not an entertainment playground. The duty of a university is to remove the [financial] reasons for students to sell their bodies. What women of tomorrow are you hoping to educate? Women traumatised by PTSD from letting men do what the hell they want with them? JFC! #IDEVAW2021
Anything that normalises the buying and selling of sex entrenches archaic attitudes about the position of women and their status as objects. As someone who works with offenders, I know where this can lead.
Legitimising commercialised sexual exploitation and financially compensated sexual abuse/assault is wrong and also puts a price on all women.
I’m signing because I work at a university and it is appalling that a university would suggest to young women that they sell sexual services.
What is Uni of Leicester thinking?!
This is not work – it’s the exploitation of women framed as an expression of women’s rights – for whose benefit?
This is outrageous dereliction of the university’s duty of care towards their female students.
I’m horrified that a University is grooming young female students, many of whom are living away from home for the first time in their lives, to think that allowing male strangers to ejaculate inside them, piss & defecate on them, risk beating, rape and theft, is an acceptable way to earn some money on the side. This is institutionalized misogyny.
Who benefits from grooming young women to disassociate from their own bodies?
Education is supposed to offer women more choices. Prostitution is viewed as a final resort to solve destitution.
Why go to university at all?
Prostitution is not legitimate work. It is degrading and dangerous to women and should not be encouraged in any way by anyone, particularly an educational institution. Leicester University should hang their head in shame.
Exploitation of vulnerable young women by men should not be normalised. The only way to keep women safe is to pursue those who would exploit them.
Women are people, not a service for men.
My 13 year old daughter should never see this normalized as an option. It’s an assault on working class women who may struggle to financially support themselves through education and creates a bigger societal divide.
The very fact that the toolkit exists is a recognition that prostitution is inherently dangerous. Students should not have to sell their bodies to pay for an education. The University should be focusing on advising on safer alternatives for students struggling to finance their studies.
Women should be able to attend university without having to resort to prostitution.
I believe sex work is the worst degradation of women. It is paid rape and should never be supported by a university.
Prostitution is harmful and has long term mental and physical health consequences.
I am horrified at this policy being rolled out in higher education. It is abuse but dressed up as liberation for young female students using the language of empowerment, totally disingenuous.
I’m signing because I feel horrified about this utterly misogynistic and abusive policy making ‘produce’ of young women for men’s consumption.
Disgusting, I feel sorry for my daughter and everybody else’s!
Our daughters are not human commodities to be trafficked or groomed at the behest of Pimps on Campus!
Normalising and encouraging prostitution will cause serious harm to vulnerable women.
NOBODY should have to be selling their bodies and making themselves vulnerable to abuse. To legitimise the sex trade like this is utterly unacceptable.
Prostitution does not liberate women. It is not an empowering “choice”. It exploits women.
Sex work is commodification of women, making female bodies receptacles for men’s use. Pimping is rife. Girls shouldn’t have to sell their bodies to pay for education.
No person should have to sell themselves, sex is not a commodity. People are not commodities to be bought and devalued in this way. We need to realise that everything is not for sale. Look at the state of society and the planet!
Sex ‘work’ is dangerous exploitation of women and students should be helped out of it!
This is a retrograde and dangerous step for women. It is implicitly affirming prostitution as a money–making venture without signposting possible and likely harms both to the body and the psyche.
Universities should be places where students learn to question objectifying, degrading practices and challenge those who profit from them, not train to be objectified and degraded. Women students deserve better.
Encouraging young women to sell their bodies to strangers is unbelievable. This is NOT equality – women selling themselves to gratify men. Call it anything you want, but it is sexual exploitation.
I’m signing as a friend of mine in 1970s had financed her studies before attending Oxford University by being an ‘escort’ for a year. The experience profoundly powered both some chronic health problems and her feminist realization of the ‘personal being political’. I’d have hoped we’d have reached a better place of understanding than encouragement by now.
Sex work is degrading and dangerous. The word work legitimises an activity that not even economic necessity should drive someone to perform.
Sex work should not be legitimised under the guise of progressive sexual liberation. There is nothing liberating about the commercial objectification of women’s bodies as commodities or services to be bought and paid for. Men do not have the right to “buy sex” and sex without willing and enthusiastic consent is rape. Sex work like this is the thin end of the wedge of a toxic pyramid of organised crime, women and children’s trafficking, sexual slavery and exploitation.
Also, where does validating sex work lead to? Denying single mums their benefits because they turned down “valid sex work” as an employment option?
Leicester University should not be normalising sex work which is demeaning and dangerous. You have a duty of care to the young people attending your institutions and should not be putting them at risk in this way.
The toolkit has been written as if it is only going to be read by students already in the sex industry. In truth it will be read by many vulnerable students who are considering going into the sex industry and it does nothing to discourage them or even highlight the dangers, in fact overall the tone is one of encouragement through normalisation. That needs to be fixed.
Taking women back 200 years.
OMG, I was once a student at Leicester University, graduating in 1974 with a Double 1st Class Honours degree in Combined Sciences.
I always wanted to go to university as I was clever, though at that time it wasn’t as common for girls to go to university.
Is my old alma mater now fostering the exploitation of women by encouraging their involvement in the sex trade?
When I was a student at Leicester, I was part of the team which produced and presented the ‘Campus’ programme from the studios of Radio Leicester, and on one of the very old cassette tapes I still possess I can be heard interviewing the president of the Students’ Union and asking him when he thought they’d get their first paid woman sabbatical officer and eventually a woman President of the Students’ Union!
Who’d have imagined that 50 (!) years later my contemporary equivalent would be asking how the University is now coercing women into the sex trade and prostitution!
Progress? You must be joking!!!
Students should be given support from other means if they are struggling financially and not encouraged into the sex trade under any circumstances. If these toolkits are only seeking to help those already in the sex trade then why is more support and signposting not being offered to them within the toolkits?
It’s obvious that things need to change to protect vulnerable women and support them when they get into financial difficulties rather than promoting the sex trade as a viable / acceptable /normal option to earn money!
Girls get an education so they DON’T have to Prostitute themselves.
Educate everyone about sex-buyers, instead: why do men want to stick their d*ck in a woman?
That’s a question for the ages.
Call me old-fashioned, but it used to be that a university education was a good way to ensure that a woman would never have to resort to prostitution. Are you all out of your minds? Are you now trafficking women? Or?!?
Prostitution is violence against women. It is demeaning and is against equality between the women and men. Violence must never be promoted as a solution to the financial difficulties of students. The state should instead step up and support them by reducing or removing university fees and providing better financial support to students. It is very wrong to pay hundreds of thousands and even millions in salaries and bonuses to bosses while pushing young women and girls into the sex trade to survive. This must stop!
I know this dreadful business from the inside, and I worked with students, single mums etc….I can promise you that every single one of us was worth more than to be bought by men for their pleasure. Worth so very much more. Let’s get THAT bit right instead of enabling & facilitating their abuse. Sex by coercion (even financial) is rape.
It’s immoral, shameful & inhumane to normalise women selling their bodies to get through university.
Prostitution is abuse, not ‘work’.
It should be deeply disturbing that young women feel their only option to get by is to sell their bodies, and for a educational establishment to support this is sickening.
No ONE should have to sell the most intimate parts of themselves for access to an education.
I’m horrified that 18 year old girls are being presented with prostitution as an option to pay themselves through University. Where is the financial support?
I hope for a better world for young people – one of kindness and respect and one where humans are not reduced to the sum of their body parts. Prostitution is soul destroying. Sex is not work.
No-one should be told that selling their body is normal and acceptable without also being told that it is degrading, exploitative and dangerous.
Sex work is financially coerced rape, and comes with long-term psychological trauma. Naive or troubled youth deserve better from us and men should not receive the message that this is okay. Society is not improved by normalizing the callous use of another’s body.
Women are not objects for men to purchase. We will never have respect and equality if we are teaching women that their worth is in their sexual appeal to men.
Could your contempt for women be any more obvious? Why are you promoting the idea that men must get everything they want, and that women’s bodies are for sale?
Prostitution is the foundation of male violence against women.
I’m signing because our daughters deserve a world which values women for their minds and not as objects to be consumed by men for sexual pleasure. They deserve to be treated as full worthy human beings in relationships based on mutual respect and love.
This is sexist and exploitative. The sex industry is just another way women are taken advantage of by capitalism and patriarchy. It is a well known fact that many students struggle financially during uni. Female students should be made aware of the many risks and harsh realities involved in the sex industry instead of being sold the lie that it is an easy job that will fix all your problems.
This is horrific. How have we got to a place where it is necessary for young people to consider prostitution in order to fund a degree?
It’s time that the normalisation of prostitution with its attendant risks and objectification of human beings is called out and the practice stopped with immediate effect.
Women and girls are not commodities.
Sex should be something you want to do. It should never be work. A society that sees students selling their sexuality as a viable way of living has gone down a path to exploitation.
Antonia Del la Varis
Prostitution has been the last option for the most destitute and beaten down women in society for thousands of years in our culture Using your body as a machine to service men is dehumanising and debasing, the ultimate manifestation of inequality between the sexes. An institution treating it as a legitimate and acceptable way to support oneself normalises the exploitation of women and the idea that women’s aspirations are a joke. It is entirely retrogressive, in fact it has never been this bad for women’s rights and equality, when even educated women are expected to debase themselves to survive. A terrible new low for our civilisation.
Prostitution is not work and is in fact a form of violence against women and girls. Universities should be vocally opposed to students being engaged in prostitution and should support students to avoid and/or escape the sex industry.
I’m signing because I am a parent of two girls and I believe that if you don’t sign you’d be happy for your own child to involved in this awful industry. Consent that’s paid for is not consent and therefore legalised rape.
Universities should empower women as equals not promote them to be used as merchandise to pay their studies. Shame on this toolkit!
Prostitution is a sign of gender inequality. The university should not be encouraging it but should be preparing women for careers that allow them to avoid ending up as sexual targets.
I was brought up in a red light district and from about age 13 I knew in every cell of my body, written into the DNA from time immemorial, that having no other way to make money than to sell your body to be abused, was totally against humanity. One night a girl was shouting to another girl asking the whereabouts of a fellow worker. She shouted ‘I’ve done four since I saw her last and she still hasn’t appeared’. That was in the 80’s. I still remember that gut wrenching conversation.
I am signing this petition as I don’t want it normalised that women should need to become sex workers to obtain an education. What is the matter with these universities, do those who make these decision really hold women in so much contempt?
Prostitution is not ‘empowering’. It is abuse of women. There are better ways of helping women with the cost of university education.
Women get education to ESCAPE this sort of misogynistic trap. Our bodies are not for men to buy but for us to live in. Stop grooming young women.
Sex work is not working. Those who have worked in the sex trade have a higher incidence of ptsd & cptsd than those who have worked in the armed forces.
Young women starting out their lives at uni do not need to be groomed into thinking prostitution is a normal and valid way to earn extra money.
Stop trying to brainwash me into accepting “sex work is work”. No it’s not. For centuries, society has been trying to push and keep women in ‘sex work’. The message conveyed in your policy belongs in history books. Please update it to reflect more modern times, empowering women to reject ‘sex work’ and giving them the tools and confidence to start applying for the same work as men.
As a graduate of your university, I do not need to be seeing you encouraging me it’s okay for me to become a prostitute. But that’s precisely what your toolkit’s telling me.
I, along with all other members of the public, have access to seeing you broadcasting this message by the fact you’ve made your sex-work toolkit freely available on your website to anyone with internet access. Including young school girls considering applying to your university and wondering what ways you’re saying are ‘okay’ to come up with the money to pay your tuition and hall fees.
So stop saying your policy only affects your current students who are already sex-workers. No, it affects all students, current and past, such as me, including students who until seeing your toolkit, had never considered sex-work an acceptable job. But more worryingly, it also affects potential future students browsing your website. Because all of us can see your toolkit and its sexist outdated message saying it’s still acceptable in 2021 for women to have to count prostitution as ‘work’.