Yesterday Leicester University responded to our latest FOI request confirming that it has withdrawn its ‘student sex work’ toolkit and training. Yasmin Quayyum, NMN Campaigns Manager, gives a brief summary of our campaign to get them removed.
We launched our petition against the University of Leicester student ‘sex work’ toolkit exactly one year ago this month – on 21 July 2021. It called for two things. First, for the University of Leicester to revoke its ‘student sex work’ toolkit. Second, for the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to end its funding of the project to roll it out to other UK universities via a free training course. By September 2021, the petition had gained over 10,000 signatures and we opened it up to organisations to sign up as official supporters too.
In November we launched our handbook, ‘Supporting students impacted by the sex industry: A handbook for universities’. We sent printed copies to every university in the UK in order to counter the Leicester team’s attempts to get universities to adopt their toolkit. Our handbook was well-received and was introduced to British university counsellors in the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy’s quarterly University and College Counselling Journal. It even reached further afield, with the Vancouver Collective Against Sexual Exploitation in Canada and the Women’s Support Project in Scotland both expressing interest in promoting adapted versions to universities in their regions.
In January we delivered the petition to the University of Leicester in time for the scheduled review of their policy that month. We met with the Associate Director of EDI and Head of Student Support. At the time of printing, the signature count stood at 13,345 signatures plus 83 official supporter organisations.
By February, Leicester had taken down the student version of the toolkit from the externally facing project pages and had revised the staff version. Significantly, the university had removed its name and logos from the staff version and instead attributed it to its three authors. Within a month, this revised staff version had also been taken down from the external project pages.
We were unsure whether these changes were permanent, but yesterday (29 July 2022), the University of Leicester responded to our FOI request, confirming that it has “withdrawn” the student version of the toolkit. We understand that the policy and staff version of the toolkit will remain but only as internal documents.
The final part of our petition’s demands was for the ESRC to end its funding of Leicester’s project to roll out its toolkit to other UK universities via free training. Originally, Leicester stated that the ESRC’s funding was to last for 18 months (until June this year). Then it announced that this had been extended to three years (meaning it would last until December 2023).
In March, we heard from the ESRC’s Interim Executive Chair that they were no longer funding the project and we were happy to see that Leicester had removed all mention of the ongoing ESRC funding from the externally facing project pages. This means that the funding of the project ended six months earlier than originally stated. As a result, the training is now offered on a paid-for basis rather than for free as previously. According to the response to our FOI request, this training is now also to be withdrawn – even though in a response to our last FOI request, Leicester had admitted delivering this training was a “substantial commercial” opportunity.
To summarise, the University of Leicester branded student ‘sex work’ toolkits have gone, the ESRC funding of their roll-out to other universities via training has gone, and now, according to the University of Leicester, that training is also to go, even as a private paid-for option. Three cheers.
Neither the University of Leicester nor the ESRC has said that these turnarounds came about as a result of our petition, but we have no doubt that it played a significant role in applying pressure on both of these bodies to rethink.
In any case, we wish to take this opportunity to thank all of you who signed the petition and the organisations that supported it.
What a turnaround in a year – well done and thank you!
The campaign to change the narrative continues
London conference, Saturday 15 October 2022
The Leicester toolkit may have gone, but we need to continue the campaign to challenge the “sex work is real work” ideology in universities. To this end, we held a conference in London on Saturday 15 October.
We heard from women who have lived experience of the sex trade about its reality once all the euphemism and propaganda are stripped away, and also from people who are working in a variety of ways to bring about change.
The event was livestreamed and recorded and you can view the recordings on our YouTube channel. It is highly recommended.