Law school staff at the University of Leicester have been told to support students who engage in sex work to fund their studies.
The university has provided a ‘Student Sex Work Toolkit’ to all its staff which describes how students may be escorting, webcamming, stripping, appearing in porn, supplying phone sex or ‘sugaring’ (where they are "a paid companion for a sugar daddy").
The policy, which aims to reduce the stigma associated with sex work to help prevent students being bullied or harassed at university, instructs staff to be "non-judgmental" and to “ensure that any students who are sex workers are positively supported”.
In a list of tips, staff are advised not to “assume the student wants to leave sex work” and not to “listen to or perpetuate myths regarding sex work”. Instead, they should “offer practical solution focused guidance” to students such as "how to juggle their sex work and their study time/assignment deadlines”.
“The university is firmly committed to sustaining an inclusive learning, working and research environment for all students, this includes students earning money or other commodities through sex work”, states the accompanying policy. It explains that students are motivated to work in the sex trade "by such practical reasons as being able to fund their studies".
A 2020 poll of 3,000 students by Save the Student found that 4% had undertaken some kind of sex work to fund themselves, ranging from selling intimate photos (the most common) to selling themselves for sex. A few have taken it further, such as Ella Hughes who quit her law degree to become a porn star, and a barrister who took up camming.
Critics on social media said that sex work was inherently abusive and dangerous and accused the university of "glorified pimping" for its non-judgemental approach. Barrister Charlotte Proudman said the university was "advertising prostitution as a 'job' for students to pay their fees. Never mind the high rates of rape, assault and PTSD".
Supporters of the toolkit countered that sex work was "valid work" and that "providing information on safety does not promote entry into an industry".
Asked whether Leicester University endorsed sex work as a means for undergraduates to pay for its courses, a spokesperson said, “If students are keen to leave the sex industry then we will assist and signpost to such support by experts".
They added, “Our policies have been put in place with student wellbeing at their core. If students are in an unsafe situation, they know they can ask for help and be offered assistance without judgement."