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Support for students who are engaged in sex work

Research by the University of Swansea estimates that around 5% of students are involved in sex work, with 20% having considered it (Sager et al, 2015, p. 7). These figures may have increased since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly in relation to online sex work. It is recognised that experiences of involvement in sex work vary; some individuals may be happy in the work, whereas others may prefer not to be involved in sex work.

Introduction

Research by the University of Swansea estimates that around 5% of students are involved in sex work, with 20% having considered it (Sager et al, 2015, p. 7). These figures may have increased since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly in relation to online sex work. It is recognised that experiences of involvement in sex work vary; some individuals may be happy in the work, whereas others may prefer not to be involved in sex work. We also recognise that students involved in sex work may be reluctant to seek help and support, for fear of being stigmatised. The information presented here is inclusive and provides sources of support for all students involved in sex work, including safety considerations and support for students who wish to exit sex work. We include information about on-campus and external support services, as well as information about how to report an incident such as sexual violence.

What is sex work?

“Prostitution and/or sex work constitutes the provision of sexual or erotic acts or sexual intimacy in exchange for payment or other benefit or need.” (Hester et al, 2019, p. 2).

Services fall into two categories: direct and indirect sex work. Direct services are when there is direct physical intimate contact between the sex worker and the client and include: the ‘full service’ (sexual intercourse); escorting; massage; sugar arrangements. Indirect services are where there is not necessarily any intimate physical contact between the sex worker and client and includes: stripping; lap-dancing; pornography; naked butler/maid; webcamming; selling images and selling worn underwear.

What is the legality of sex work?

The laws relating to sex work are complex and differ internationally. To summarise the law in England and Wales, for example, is it is legal to both buy and sell sexual services, but associated activities are illegal, such as soliciting on the street and advertising. Inadvertent law-breaking is something that students should be aware of, for example tenancy contracts may have ‘morality clauses’ and if students work together for safety this is considered in law to be a brothel and is therefore illegal. The Leeds organisation Basis Yorkshire provide detailed information about the legality of different kinds of sex work.

What are the possible implications of engaging in sex work?

The University works to provide an inclusive and supportive environment where all students feel safe to access support when it is needed. The University does not judge students who

are engaged in sex work and, therefore, participating in sex work in itself would not result in disciplinary action being taken against a student. For students on courses leading to professional qualification and registration, please see below.

Courses leading to a professional qualification and registration

The University has students who are registered on courses recognised by a Professional, Statutory or Regulatory Body (PSRB) for the purpose of attaining a professional qualification, future registration with the relevant body and for the entitlement to practise the particular profession.

Our University therefore needs to be satisfied that students registering for and undertaking these courses are professionally suitable to do so, with reference to the standards of the particular profession and the requirements of the relevant PSRB.

Students studying these courses must be aware that their actions and behaviour whilst at university, on placement and in their personal and social lives, may have an impact on the assessment for their fitness to practise in their chosen profession and continuation on their course. The Fitness to Practise policy provides further guidance and a full list of courses which are subject to this Policy.

Considerations around online sex work

Working online, including webcamming, can feel safer than other forms of sex work and is most common among students. However, engaging in online sex work makes it easier for you to be recognised and therefore you are more likely to be outed.

In many aspects, online sex work can be riskier due to the more personal level of information that can be discovered. Beyond the Gaze provides guidance on maintaining your safety and privacy while working online.

Staying safe

Research suggests that students engaged in sex work often do not feel safe and may experience stigma (Swansea University, 2015). There are particular safety risks involved in sex work, such as: image-based sexual abuse; pressure to take drugs; sexual assault; rape. The Student Sex Work Toolkit on Basis Yorkshire’s website provides guidance on how to stay safe in all types of sex work. In addition, the organisation National Ugly Mugs provides useful information about personal safety and it shares information about dangerous clients. Both sources of information are informed by sex workers’ experiences and cover a wide range of scenarios.

Sexual violence is sexual violence whatever the context, and principles of consent are as relevant in sex work as in other contexts. Basis Yorkshire is experienced in providing advice in relation to this for individuals involved in sex work. Basis Yorkshire also provide guidance on sexual health.

How do I disclose or report an incident?

If you, or someone you know, has experienced discrimination, harassment, abuse, or violence, it can be very difficult to work through on your own. The University can provide you with support, advice and information, as well as helping you access external specialist support. Up-to-date information on University-based support and local and national services can be found at our Support. Report. Respect webpages.

If you want to make a disclosure about an incident, specially trained Student Services Advisers can contact you to discuss your experience, provide initial support and explain your options for taking the disclosure further, if that is something you would like to do.

If you don’t want to share personal information, we still welcome anonymous disclosures, as this helps us to understand how to better support other students within our community.

We understand that you may feel frightened, overwhelmed, or confused. We handle all disclosures sensitively and we appreciate you sharing your experience with us. Our Support. Report. Respect webpages provide more information on how to make a disclosure or a report, as well as useful contacts and resources.

Reporting to the police

You may be considering reporting an incident to the police and are feeling unsure about taking this action. West Yorkshire Police have a clear commitment to treat sex workers sensitively and ensure they are supported and protected from violence, exploitation, and coercion. You may find it helpful to read the West Yorkshire Police’s policy and/or speak to a Student Services Adviser, prior to making a decision.

Sexual exploitation

STOP THE TRAFFIK defines sexual exploitation as “when someone is deceived, coerced or forced to take part in sexual activity.” (2022) If you are being exploited and want help, support is available. Beyond the Streets is a UK charity working to end sexual exploitation. They support women involved in both indoor and street-based sex work across the UK, including those who might want to leave sex work. If you think someone else is being exploited, the organisation STOP THE TRAFFIK shares signs of exploitation and how to share the information with relevant authorities. The STAGE Project offers women (16 and over) support to address and overcome experiences of sexual exploitation. The STAGE project supports women in the North East and Yorkshire. Support is also available from a variety of agencies, including Basis Yorkshire.

If you are being forced to provide sexual services against your will, we want to help and support you.

What support is available at the University?

Financial Support

If you are engaged in sex work and experiencing financial hardship, or you want to leave sex work and you are worried about a loss of income, you can speak with the Student Money team. The Student Money team provide confidential and free advice about funding your studies, benefits and budgeting. They can make sure you are accessing any additional support you may be entitled to. The team treat all students who access the service sensitively and would not refer you to any support services without your consent.

You can contact our Money Advice Line on 0113 812 5593 or request a call back through https://www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/moneycallback. You can email studentmoney@leedsbeckett.ac.uk or find us online.

The Leeds Beckett Students’ Union Advice Service also provide money advice. The SU Advice Service is independent from Leeds Beckett University and you can contact the Service by completing a form. For more information about the Advice Service, please visit the Advice webpage.

Counselling/wellbeing support Students are welcome to register with the Student Wellbeing Team for short-term counselling and mental health support and advice. To access support from our team, please complete our online registration form; it only takes a few minutes. On completing the form, you will be able to self-book a 50-minute Initial Consultation Appointment with one of our practitioners.

For more information on self-help resources and urgent support information, see our webpage or contact 0113 812 8507 or studentwellbeing@leedsbeckett.ac.uk.

Further wellbeing resources external to the University can be found here:

  • Student Space offers: access to dedicated support services for students; information and advice to help students through the challenges of coronavirus; and helps students find what support is available at their university.
  • Mindwell Leeds provides access to up-to-date information for all adults in Leeds, including urgent support information.
  • Marketplace Leeds offer drop-ins and telephone support, as well as counselling for 18-25s.
  • Shout 85258 is a free, confidential, 24/7 text messaging support service for anyone who is struggling to cope.
  • The Mix provides free, confidential support for young people under 25, including phone, email, peer to peer and counselling services.
  • Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service (LMWS) provides support and therapies for common issues, such as anxiety, stress, and depression. LMWS offer a wide range of proven psychological support, including Online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Academic advice

If you are encountering issues which may prevent you from being able to submit or take assessment, you could submit your Extenuating Circumstances for consideration. You can find information and the application form on the Leeds Beckett Extenuating Circumstances page. The Students’ Union Advice Service can advise you on presenting your circumstances. To contact the Service, complete this form.

Where can I find specialist support outside the University?

For those involved in sex work or who want to leave, extensive specialist support and information is available:

  • Basis Yorkshire offer: one-to-one support; home visits; sexual health services; housing advice; and safety information to sex workers in Leeds.
  • Joanna Project is a Christian faith project who provide a drop-in service, peer support and evening outreach to outdoor street sex workers.
  • National Ugly Mugs (NUM) provides access to justice and protection for sex workers. They can help you to report to the police and share information about dangerous individuals.
  • SWARM is a sex worker led collective aiming to improve working conditions and resist violence. They run meetups for sex workers in Leeds and Manchester.
  • Yorkshire MESMAC offer sexual health testing, counselling and support to all sex workers.
  • Forward Leeds provide support to sex workers who have concerns about their alcohol and drug use.
  • Women’s Lives Leeds is an alliance of 12 organisations which support women and girls in Leeds, including those involved in sex work.
  • The Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) is a global network of support which upholds the voices of sex workers.
  • SARSVL (Support after Rape and Sexual Violence Leeds) is a local rape crisis centre. They have a helpline and offer short and long-term counselling sessions. They also run a ISVA (Independent Sexual Violence Advocate) service which is a specialist emotional support service for individuals who have reported their abuse to the police.
  • Revenge Porn Helpline offer non-judgemental and confidential advice for individuals experiencing revenge porn. They also help with the removal of content and legal advice.
     

References

Sagar, T., Jones, D., Symons, K. and Bowring, J., 2015. The Student Sex Work Project: Research Summary. Centre for Criminal Justice and Criminology, Swansea University.

Hester, M., Mulvihill, N., Matolcsi, A., Sanchez, A. and Walker, S., 2019. The nature and prevalence of prostitution and sex work in England and Wales today. Centre for Gender and Violence Research University of Bristol, p.2.

STOP THE TRAFFIK. 2022. Types of exploitation, human trafficking & slavery - STOP THE TRAFFIK. [online] Available at: <https://www.stopthetraffik.org/about-human-trafficking/types-of-exploitation/> [Accessed 8 February 2022].

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