Durham University’s Students’ Union defends sex work support training in the face of criticism from Further Education Minister

Durham University’s Students’ Union has defended its decision to offer sex work support training to its students after being criticised by Further Education Minister Michelle Donelan.
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The criticism came after the university’s Students’ Union emailed staff and students offering a “training opportunity” to support people working in the sex industry to say safe. The email was sent in response to requests from a small number of students.

According to reports in the Independent newspaper, the email stated that student sex workers should “not face any barriers to accessing support” and that the “Students’ Unions’ position on students in sex work is clear: support, informed advice, de-stigmatisation and collaboration with expert organisations”.

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However the move was strongly criticised by Ms Donelan who said: “I’m deeply concerned that any university is legitimising a dangerous industry which thrives on the exploitation of women. Any university that does this is badly failing in their duty to protect students.

Durham University's Students' Union has defended its decision to offer training to support students working in the sex industry.Durham University's Students' Union has defended its decision to offer training to support students working in the sex industry.
Durham University's Students' Union has defended its decision to offer training to support students working in the sex industry.

"It is right that vital support is offered to women who are being exploited. This course seeks to normalise selling sex, which has no place in our universities.”

However, a post on the Durham Students’ Union website by Welfare and Liberation Officer, Jonah Graham, has strongly defended the decision to offer the training session.

Jonah also used the post to cite a study carried out by Swansea University which revealed that “almost five per cent of students have ever worked in the sex industry” and that “one in five students have ever considered such engagement”.

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The study also found the key “motivation” for students entering the industry is the “need to generate money”. The average student debt on graduation day in England is believed to be around £45,000.

Jonah stated: “The Minister of State for Further Education’s comments show that she fundamentally misunderstands the training. It is an attempt to support students in a difficulty arising from the reality of their lives outside of their studies.

"Ultimately, any suggestion that this training aims to facilitate sex work is ludicrous. As I have attended both levels of this training, I know these criticisms are made in bad faith and are wildly untrue.

“The training’s target audience is those who support students, so they understand the legal, safety, and wellbeing concerns of students and how to respond to disclosures sensitively.

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"I am glad the minister agrees that we need to be “raising awareness", and that is what this training achieves. Anyone who cares about the safety of students should support this training and educate themselves about its actual content before making poorly judged comments.

"The vast majority of universities don’t have formal processes in place that staff can follow when they encounter a disclosure – a fact that could be harmful for students.

"Student sex workers are a fact of modern life, to deny them support in higher education is a grave mistake with real world implications for the students I represent.

"I am proud of my students' union for pushing for support, and proud of my university for offering this training.”

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