Working with students involved in the sex industry

We frequently hear from women about the negative and inappropriate responses they’ve received from counsellors, therapists and medical and caring professionals after disclosing current or past involvement in the sex industry. Often this is down to the practitioner’s belief in the sex industry propaganda that “sex work is real work” and that for the majority of women involved, it is a free and informed choice. These attitudes deny the trauma that is inherent to prostitution and can make women feel judged, invalidated, and gaslit, and can delay and complicate recovery.

The cover of the March 2022 edition of the BACP University and College Counselling journal.

We were thrilled therefore to be asked to write an article that explores these issues for the BACP University and College Counselling journal.

The article argues that forcing sex on someone who doesn’t reciprocate is almost universally recognised as a serious crime – and this is an intrinsic recognition that our sexual integrity is fundamental to our sense of self and that any assault on it is uniquely damaging. This is widely understood, except, it seems, when money is involved – as the pervasiveness of the “sex work is real work” myth testifies.

The “sex work is a choice” myth is equally unhelpful, particularly in the light of the recent increase in poverty and inequality, the brutal student financial regime, and mass early exposure to online pornography and its seepage into mainstream culture, and the consequent early engagement in sexual activity, and boys’ harassment of girls and sexual misconduct. These trends prime girls as fodder for the sex industry, as Mia Döring so brilliantly describes in her book, Any Girl.

The article includes two case studies that illustrate these themes and argues for a more enlightened approach. It also introduces our handbook: ‘Supporting students impacted by the sex industry: A handbook for universities’, which sets out a vision for how universities can better support students and resist the march of the sex industry propaganda.

You can read the article on the BACP website: Working with students involved in the sex industry.

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