Research undertaken by The Student Sex Work Project, and recently published in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, revealed that some
busybodies university chiefs in Wales believe that students who fund their studies by working in the sex trade should be formally punished.
This is because they believe the students who choose to seek employment in that industry may be bringing the reputation of the institutions into disrepute. From the outset, this already appears to be valuing the institutions’ image over their students’ welfare. The study, which interviewed a sample of 106 professionals working within universities in Wales, concluded that action was more likely to be taken against the student if their work sparked a ‘police or legal investigation’. Many would argue that being involved in legal action is punishment enough.
How many students work in the sex trade?
Another research aim of the survey was to find out the extent of students’ involvement in the sex trade. Out of a sample of 6,773 – 4.8 per cent of students reported that they were, or had been, involved in the sex trade.
The 4.8 per cent were made up of students involved in direct sex work (involving direct contact with a client, e.g. prostitution and escorting), indirect sex work (sex work not involving direct contact with a client, e.g. working in the porn industry or broadcasting sex acts via webcam) or organisational and auxiliary roles (e.g. working as a receptionist in a brothel, or as a pimp). Indirect sex work was the most popular option of respondents who were, or had been, involved in the sex trade.
What areas of the sex trade did the students work?
Other findings outlined that around one in five (21.9 per cent) of the students who took part in the study had considered working in the sex industry during their studies. This equates to 1,483 students. More of them were female (23.6 per cent) than male (18.5 per cent) and, again, indirect sex work was more likely to be considered.
The different types of sex work that the student’s thought were acceptable…
The researchers argue there is ‘widespread inaccurate perceptions regarding the legality of various kinds of sex work’. For instance, the misconception that students who are engaging in sex work in a private place are breaking the law. They are not, so the study is clearly focusing on a moral issue, as opposed to a legal one.
The authors of the research have generalised the findings and conclusions across the whole student population, but I’m personally not sure that a sample of under seven thousand could represent millions of students that are enrolled in UK universities. It could also be argued that only a certain type of person would take part in a self-selecting study like this, which means the sample may hold a further bias.
Is it right that students who decide to fund their way through uni by becoming involved in the sex trade are ‘disciplined’, which could result in them becoming alienated and socially marginalised? Amnesty International think not. Last week they publicly advocated the decriminalisation of all aspects of adult sex work that does not involve coercion, exploitation or abuse.
Here’s the reasons students gave for getting involved in the sex trade…
Salil Shetty, the Secretary General of Amnesty International, said: “Sex workers are one of the most marginalised groups in the world, who in most instances face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse.” Is it fair that one of the most vulnerable, and traditionally discriminated against groups in society should be further vilified while they are trying to pay their way through education?
Dr Tracey Sagar, a researcher in the study, believes that universities should concentrate on the welfare of their students rather than trying to avoid damage to their reputation. She said:
It is lamentable that some higher education institutions remain concerned about student occupations within the sex industry and behaviour that could be deemed to bring the reputation of the university into disrepute.
The university can play an important role in protecting student sex workers from falling victim to stigmatisation and discrimination in much the same way as they protect students from minority groups.
Universities’ responsibilities lie not in censoring or policing what their students do away from the campus but in ensuring their wellbeing on it.
I couldn’t agree more. Society’s norms and values dictate that, quite rightly, it is illegal to discriminate against anyone based on their gender, sexual orientation, disability etc. So why should it be acceptable to discriminate against someone for the line of work they choose to pursue? It simply should not. Furthermore, surely demanding to know about a student’s sex life, or involvement in the sex trade, would be a breach of a university’s harassment policy.
Thankfully, the study concluded: “Universities’ responsibilities lie not in censoring or policing what their students do away from the campus, but in ensuring their wellbeing on it.”
The university officials should heed the researchers’ conclusion, and not punish people paying their uni fees – and the officials’ wages – through their involvement with the sex trade.