University and College Union (UCU) votes to create a toolkit supporting students’ entry into “sex work”

Some readers will recall that a couple of years ago, the University of Leicester published a “student sex worker” toolkit that read like a guide to getting into the sex trade and obtained funding from the ESRC to roll the toolkit out to universities all around the UK. After massive public outrage and a concerted campaign, the toolkit was withdrawn and apparently so was the ESRC funding.

It would be easy to think that that was the end of it – but no, the sex trade expansionists do not give up so easily. Now they have persuaded the UCU – the University and College Union – to agree to create another toolkit that would also guide students into the sex industry.

This was part of Motion 54, which was passed at the UCU 2023 annual congress that ended earlier this week. Here is an excerpt (emphasis added):

“Congress resolves to task Equality Committee to work with all equality standing committees, student organisations including the NUS, and other relevant organisations to:

a. create a toolkit which supports informed and safe routes of entry into and exit from sex work

b. pursue campaigns to support decriminalisation of sex work, collective working, and safe choices.”

So here we are again! Another union passes another oxymoronic motion that will normalise and legitimise the sexploitation industry to students, while claiming to be concerned about their safety. This will inevitably lead to more students, particularly marginalised girls and young women, being drawn into the industry where they will almost inevitably be harmed and their life chances decimated.

This is grooming young people. Nothing can make the sex industry safe. Women involved in the sex industry have the highest murder rate of any social group and a mortality rate about 12 times that of women in the general population.

This motion came from the Women Members Standing Committee and I can’t help despairing that, once again, it is women who are driving this agenda. We wrote last year about how many of the most vocal activists for the expansion of the sex trade and young women’s entry into it are women – often women from relatively well-heeled backgrounds – and we posited the reasons for this.

Alongside this motion were three others about problems arising from misogyny, sexual harassment and domestic violence (see motions 52, 53, and 56) that were also passed.

And, as usual, there seems to be a total absence of any discussion about why misogyny, sexual harassment, and domestic violence are currently such widespread problems. What could possibly have made men more prone to such behaviour over the past decade and a half?

The elephant in the room is, of course, the mainstreaming of pornography and the sexploitation industry. The very same sexploitation industry that the UCU is going all out to promote.

The evidence is unequivocal that both porn consumption and buying sex are associated with attitudes that underlie men’s verbal and physical aggression towards women, including rape and sexual harassment. If you don’t believe me, you only have to spend a few minutes reading the reviews that men leave on punter forums about their prostitution encounters to get up to speed. Here are a few examples:

“It is a “power trip” for the man, or a sense of him being in control and having the power to hurt/degrade/etc, if he wanted.”

“For me it is a power thing.’ ‘I do it [anal sex] with very attractive petite oriental escorts pretty often.”

“I thought she was sleeping. No noise, eyes closed… So pumped a bit harder and faster and it was all over.”

Clearly the authors of these reviews are not seeing the women they pay to use and abuse sexually as full human beings with equal rights as them – but rather as commodities, or objects they can rent. These attitudes are not an anomaly. They are the inevitable consequence of prostitution and porn use.

Frankly it is inconceivable that such attitudes would not affect how male porn and prostitution users treat the women in their lives. This is of extreme concern because we know from history that regarding human beings as less than human, opens the way for abusing them, denying them full human rights and equality, and worse.

And yet the UCU, the union of academics and staff who are entrusted with the education and care of young people, are working to normalise prostitution and the wider sexploitation industry and to facilitate young women’s entry into it – and the corollary that buying sexual access to marginalised young people is of no more consequence than buying a beer or a haircut.

Handbook for Universities

In response to the Leicester “student sex worker toolkit”, we developed a handbook for universities. Called ‘Supporting students impacted by the sex industry: A handbook for universities’, it sets out a holistic and comprehensive approach to university policy around the sex industry and how best to support students who have been impacted by it. It is available to download for free or you can buy printed copies in our shop for £15 (£5 for students).

We urge the UCU Equality Committee to obtain copies of this handbook and to read and digest it – and to use it to inform the toolkit that they have been tasked with creating.

Further reading

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