A Christian advocacy group has strongly condemned the inclusion of a sex worker support group stall at a university’s freshers’ fair.
Christian Action Research & Education (CARE) also welcomed the University of Brighton’s investigation into the stall.
The decision to allow the Sex Workers’ Outreach Project Sussex (Swop) to attend the University of Brighton’s events in the city and at its campus in Eastbourne was branded “highly irresponsible” and criticised online.
The group, which also said it attended the University of Sussex’s life and wellbeing fair, defended its actions.
The organisation is part of the Brighton Oasis Project charity and describes itself as a ‘discreet and confidential’ service for women in the sex industry who live or work in Sussex.
On Sunday, a University of Brighton spokesman said it would be launching an investigation and “does not promote sex work to its students”.
Louise Gleich, CARE’s senior policy officer for human trafficking, welcomed the investigation and warned that such stalls sent out damaging messages to vulnerable students.
“Swop’s inclusion at the university’s freshers’ fair is highly irresponsible,” Ms Gleich told The Catholic Universe. “Not only does it normalise and glamourise prostitution, showcasing it as a harmless option to alleviate student debt, but it deliberately sends out this damaging message to vulnerable students, many of whom are away from home for the first time.
“CARE is pleased the university has launched an investigation into this. Prostitution is inherently harmful and should not be legitimised in this way,” she added.
The Swop stalls offered condoms and leaflets as well as inviting visitors to ‘come and play’ on a ‘wheel of sexual wellbeing’.
In a series of tweets it promoted its attendance, it said: ‘one in six students does sex work or thinks about turning to sex work. We can help.’
It also tweeted: ‘If you’re topping up your fees with sex work, or struggling to balance work and studies, or want to talk and don’t know where to go…we’re here for you. We respect your autonomy, privacy and confidentiality.’
However, the organisation defended its position, saying it had ‘never idealised sex work’, adding: ‘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.’
It said it was not ‘encouraging or suggesting’ that students become sex workers but cited academic research about students in sex work and said the group would offer ‘support and advice without judgment’.
Tomi Ibukun, president of the student’s union which organised the event, leapt to Swop’s defence.
“Swop was at our freshers’ fair event to raise awareness of the specialist support they provide should it ever be needed,” he told The Sunday Times. “They were not there to advocate sex work as an option to our new students. It is unfortunate that some people have misinterpreted the attendance of Swop at our freshers’ fair.”
In a statement the University of Brighton said: ‘The freshers fair is an event organised by students for students and as such is managed by the students’ union.
‘The university is nevertheless exploring this matter further with the students’ union to allow us to gain a full understanding of the aims in inviting Swop to the event and to ensure due care is taken when presenting students with third-party information on highly sensitive and emotive issues.
‘We would like to make it clear that the university does not promote sex work as an option to students.
‘We provide a wide range of welfare support as well as financial assistance to any students who suffer hardship. This is offered on a confidential and non-judgmental basis, balancing respect for our students’ right to make their own decisions and our wider duty of care.’
Picture: Students attend a lecture. (Jens Kalaene/DPA/PA).