Sex workers for a long time have often been penalised by society as being substandard. In Hollywood, the perception of sex workers and prostitutes is that they need ‘saving’ (see Pretty Woman) and that they have been led astray. However, this common misconception of Sex workers being ‘low brow’ is misogynistic, especially when white men are depicted in films/movies as the hero.
It represents women as unreliable to look after themselves; needing a man to thrive in society. Without such, sex workers are perceived as destitute and as having a hard life. Moreover, what is often depicted in films is that sex workers are linked to drug misuse and alcohol abuse. This damaging representation encourages more people to believe that what Durham University are doing is perhaps encouraging this sort of behaviour.
However, Durham University isn’t actually encouraging sex work or drug/alcohol misuse. Instead, they are showing their solidarity with the students who are engaging in this sort of work already. Now, with this in mind, introducing advice for Students who are sex workers seems entirely positive and forward thinking.
Yet, if the advice is ‘stop doing this work’, then it’s obvious to note that this is perpetuating the damaging stereotypes that already surround sex workers. If the University is offering advice on having safe sex and how to operate in the financial line of business safely, then this is wholly positive and would have a good impact on the students who are sex workers.
Should then, all University’s be offering this support? Simply put, yes. All institutions should be offering students courses on this, regardless of whether students are actively engaging as sex workers or not. Why? Not only will this encourage and make more people aware of having safer sex, but it will also destigmatise the industry.
Not only are the media reports misogynistic, but the Further Education Minister Michelle Donelan said that the University is “badly failing” to protect students from this type of work. But what are they actually failing to do here? They are normalising this line of work and supporting their students, whilst they engage in this line of work.
It would be more alarming if the University didn’t want to provide safety courses for its students, as that would increase the potential harm for the students – especially if they’re working alone. Similarly, misinformation might spread about not engaging in safe sex or getting regular STI checks.
That being said, it's clear this type of response from the government is highly problematic. It’s only continuing the archaic misperception that sex workers are substandard and a dangerous line of work.