We all know Freshers’ Week is a time to widen our horizons and sign up for something new, but Brighton University students got more than they were expecting this year.
The Sex Workers’ Outreach Project Sussex (SWOP) had its own stall, handing out condoms and free advice on how to be a sex worker to unsuspecting undergraduates.
SWOP’s Tweet on 27 September stated: “1 in 6 students does sex work or thinks about turning to sex work. We can help.” later defending itself with a further Tweet: “SWOP have never idealised sex work.”
Wellbeing officer from @brightonsu hanging out at our stall at #brightonfreshersfair with @THTorguk offering advice, information and condoms. pic.twitter.com/fhMPayaCSL
— SWOP Sussex at Brighton Oasis Project (@SWOPoasis) September 27, 2018
The university has said it will launch an investigation into the “beyond disgraceful” decision to allow SWOP to attend events in Brighton and at its Eastborne campus, adding it did “not promote sex work to its students“.
SWOP maintains it was not encouraging students to become sex workers, but instead offers non-judgemental and confidential support and advice to students who are “topping up [their] fees with sex work, or struggling to balance work and studies, or want to talk and don’t know where to go…”
SWOP have never idealised sex work. However, we understand why students may turn to sex work, and navigating the legal precariousness as well as potential danger mean that students are extra vulnerable and we will help. We hope every student had a wonderful Fresher's Week 🙂
— SWOP Sussex at Brighton Oasis Project (@SWOPoasis) September 28, 2018
The Sun recently published a story on the results of the Student Money Survey of 2,000 students; the National Student Accommodation Survey 2018 found that 5% of students “use their bodies” to make money, and that figure rises when money is needed in a hurry. Work included stripping, escorting, web-camming and prostitution, and the article claims “100,000 students are active on Seeking Arrangement” – Sugar Daddy dating, to keep the student debt low.
If the survey results are true, no matter how small the demographic sample polled, then perhaps SWOP’s presence at the Freshers’ events is fortuitous. The events were organised by the Student Union, and vice-president of academic experience Parker Robinson was reported as saying: “It is great knowing there are services available ready to help students through difficulties they might be experiencing.”
SU president Tomi Ibukun told the Sunday Times that SWOP’s attendance had been “misinterpreted [by] some people“.
Organisations like SWOP seek to educate and inform as well as support. Also in attendance at the Freshers’ Fair was Brighton & Hove Sexual Health & Contraception, offering free Chlamydia screening and condoms. They invited students to “Come and say hello” suggesting that the stigma around sexual health is breaking down, as a result of education and information, advice and support.
The Human Rights Act compels public organisations to treat everyone equally, with fairness, dignity and respect. That extends to freedom of belief.
A student union believed that information pertaining to sex work should be accessible and inclusive to those most likely to need it.
You don’t need a university education to know that’s OK.