Support for Student Sex Workers

If you are a student sex worker, it’s important that you feel able to access help and support when you need it. We recognise that people in sex work may be more at risk of harassment, crime and assault, but may also be reluctant to seek support, or to report to the police (Swansea University, 2015; NUS, 2016). The information below outlines useful information about sex work, staying safe, support on campus and specialist services off campus, as well as options for reporting an incident.

What is Sex Work?  

The World Health Organisation defines sex work as “the provision of sexual services for money or goods” (WHO, Overs 2002).

The selling of sex is legal in England and Wales. However, some of the activities around the exchange of sex for money or goods are criminalised. More information about what is legal and what is not can be found here 

Almost 5% of students, possibly more, have done some kind of sex work (Swansea University 2015; Save the Student 2019), whether this be working directly with clients,  or indirect sex work, such as webcamming, phone sex, and selling images or used clothing.

Student sex workers have the right to be able to work safely, without violence and stigma. We are working with partners across York to raise awareness of the support available for sex workers, and are using the Red Umbrella logo for sex workers to know that they can receive non-judgemental, confidential advice and support from these agencies.  The Red Umbrella logo was adopted by the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) as a symbol of resistance against discrimination, and the promotion of sex workers’ rights.

Student Sex Work

There are many reasons why students engage in sex work. These include funding lifestyles, funding education, enjoyment of the work,  and the flexible nature of the work around studies as well as paying for bills and food, rent, sexual pleasure, and reducing debt (Swansea University, 2015).

Students cite stigmatisation and having to keep sex working secret as the most negative aspects of their work (Swansea University, 2015). This can lead to student sex workers being reluctant to seek help and support if they experience a crime against them, or when they are struggling, and also not feeling confident to disclose that they are sex workers when they do seek support.

Research indicates that one in four student sex workers do not always feel safe while they are working (Swansea University 2015). However, due to the stigamtised nature of sex work almost half of the students surveyed in the NUS research 2016 said they would be reluctant to go to the police if they’d experience a crime at the hands of a client.

Student Union advice and support 

The GSA Advice Service employs advisers who offer independent, confidential advice and support for all students.

If you are a student sex worker and seeking support, we provide a safe, private and non-judgemental space for you to talk openly about your situation, and to guide you through the types of support available on and off campus. We can signpost you to specialist organisations that work with sex workers, as well as discuss any issues that may be impacting on your studies, and options for other support and/or managing your studies.

To speak to a GSA student adviser in confidence, please book an appointment online or email advice@yorkgsa.org.

If you are an undergraduate, you can speak to an adviser at the Advice and Support Centre by emailing asc@yusu.org.

Sexual Health 

There are a range of sexual health services on and off campus for students. See here for more information: https://yusu.org/advice-support/support-a-z/sexual-health

Yorkshire MESMAC – provides a range of specialist sexual health services for sex workers, the LGBTQ community, black African communities as well as others adversely affected by HIV. Services and support include:

Sex worker sexual health drop-in
HIV and STI testing drop- in sessions
1-1 support
Trans & non-binary sexual health sessions
Free condoms and lubricants
LGBT Youth Group for ages 14-25

Mesmac also run free and confidential HIV and STI drop-in sessions at the University of York. For more information, see YUSU’s Sexual Health advice and support page.

For more information about Mesmac’s support for sex workers, contact the MESMAC Support Worker

Sex workers rights

Sex work in England and Wales is legal. However, some of the activities around sex working are criminalised. The English Collective of Prostitutes has developed useful guidance on Sex Workers Rights, so that sex workers are aware of the law, how it affects them, how to keep within the law, and where to go for help if you are charged. These guides have been developed with the help of legal professionals, and are available in a range of languages.

Staying safe

Thinking about your safety is really important when you are sex working.

National Ugly Mugs has produced very helpful guidance on safety for sex workers, see: uknswp.org/um/safety/essential-safety-for-sex-workers/

North Yorkshire Police has also developed guidance on how to stay safe at work, see:

northyorkshire.police.uk/staying-safe/sex-worker-safety/essential-tips/

Sex workers and sexual violence

People working in the sex industry generally have a good understanding of the principles of consent.

Where actions are not consensual, this is considered sexual violence.

If you have experienced sexual violence, assault or harassment, you may feel confused or scared, and not sure who to turn to. Please know that there is support available, and that when you seek support from a specialist service, you will be listened to and believed.

Are you safe? 
If an assault has just happened, you might want to call the police on 999. If you are injured or need medical assistance, then call an ambulance by dialling 999. If you are on campus, you can call Security on (01904 32) 3333 or use the SafeZone App

If you are not at immediate risk, try to find somewhere safe and warm, and speak to someone you trust. This could be a friend, family member, someone at the university, college or at a Student Union Adviser.

If you think you might want to report the incident, and have any evidence that you think would be important, such as condoms, bedding, clothing etc, then put them in a clean paper or plastic bag.

Who can I talk to?

University Sexual Violence Liaison Officer: The University has a specialist Sexual Violence Liasion Officer (SVLO) who can meet with you face to face to talk through your options for support. They can also explain the reporting options, and how these processes work. Support is confidential, and what you decide to do is up to you – you will not be pressured into taking any action unless you want to. If you decide to report the incident, the SVLO can support you through the reporting options available. The SVLO can support you whether or not your make a report,  whether the experience is recent or took place a long time ago, and regardless of whether the perpetrator is within the university community or not.

You can request to speak to the SVLO by completing this online form

If you would prefer to speak to someone independent from the University, you can make a confidential appointment with a Student Union adviser:

YUSU Advice & Support Centre
Graduate Students’ Association Advice Service
Where can I find Specialist support?

National Ugly Mugs:

National Ugly Mugs is a national organisation that enables sex workers to report incidents and receive warnings about dangerous individuals. If you report to National Ugly Mugs, this information is used to warn other sex workers and potentially save their lives.

NUM can also:

share anonymous intelligence with the police, if you consent for them to do so
support sex workers in making full reports to the police so that the perpetrators can be identified, arrested and convicted
ensure sex workers have access to professional services when they have been a victim of crime.

Web: uglymugs.org/um/

Sexual Assault Referral Centre – Bridge House
Bridge House is York’s sexual assault referral centre (SARC). The SARC offers support, information and advice to those who are victims of sexual assault. They can collect and store medical evidence. This gives you the option of storing evidence if you don’t want to report to the police at the moment, but think there’s a chance you may want to do so in the future. They can also support you in reporting to the police if you wish to do so.

Phone: 0330 223 0362 (9am-5pm) 24 hour answer phone

Out of hours helpline: 0330 223 0099

Web: bridgehousesarc.org

IDAS

IDAS is a specialist charity that provides comprehensive support services to anyone experiencing or affected by domestic abuse or sexual violence. They have Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) who provide support to people who have been sexually assaulted or raped. They provide non-judgemental support on the practical impact of sexual violence, including housing, legal matters, and the criminal justice process. They also offer support for the emotional impact, and can refer onto counsellors and other support as appropriate.  They have a separate service of Independent Domestic Abuse Advisors (IDVAs) for people who are experiencing domestic violence.

Phone: 03000 110 110 (North Yorkshire)

24 hour National Helpline: 0808 2000 247

Web: idas.org.uk

How can I report an incident?

Deciding whether to report an incident can be very difficult and involve a number of factors. You may feel confused, frightened, and unsure of your options.  Specialist support is available to help you understand the process of reporting, so you can make an informed decision about whether you want to make a report. If you decide to report, either anonymously, to the police, and/or to the university, you will be offered support throughout the process. If you choose not to report, your decision will be understood and respected.

For more information about reporting sexual violence, see our Sexual Violence Webpage. This includes information about how to report anonymously to the police, if you would prefer not to go down the route outlined below.

Reporting to the Police

Understandably, you may feel cautious about reporting to the police.

North Yorkshire Police have formally adopted the position that crimes against sex workers will be treated as a hate crime under the Hate Crime Policy and Procedure. Their stated aim is to “safeguard sex workers, minimise harm and prevent crime committed against them”. More information about reporting to the police can be found at: northyorkshire.police.uk/staying-safe/sex-worker-safety/

North Yorkshire Police have specific information on their webpages for sex workers who have been a victim of crime. They promote the following approach if you work in the sex industry:

  • You have the right to feel safe and secure
  • We will respect your privacy and confidentiality
  • We will treat you with dignity and respect
  • We will support you if you want to provide information to the police and/or report a crime

In an emergency, contact the police by dialling 999

In a non-emergency, you can contact North Yorkshire Police in confidence on 07741 174 737 or 01609 642 891 and leave a secure voice message or email swa@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk

Exploitation and trafficking

When a person takes part in the sale of sex through threat, abduction or other means of coercion this is called Sex Trafficking.

If you are being exploited and want help, then support is available. Beyond the Streets is a UK charity working to end sexual exploitation by working with women sex workers both on and off-street across the UK who are looking for support and understanding and who might be ready to make changes to leave sex working. They also work more broadly to end sexual exploitation.

If you think someone else is being exploited, then the organisation Stop the Traffik has more information on signs to look out for: stopthetraffik.org/spot-the-signs/

If you want to speak to the police about concerns of sexual exploitation, and it is not an emergency, you can contact North Yorkshire Police in confidence on 07741 174 737 or 01609 642 891 and leave a secure voice message or email swa@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk.

Web: northyorkshire.police.uk/staying-safe/sex-worker-safety/

Other specialist support services and organisations

Changing Lives – Specialist support for people experiencing problematic drug and alcohol use in the North East and Yorkshire

English Collective of Prostitutes:  is a network of sex workers working both on the streets and indoors campaigning for decriminalisation and safety. They provide a range of useful documents, including:

a comprehensive guide to Sex Workers Rights
a range of useful factsheets

SWARM: is a collective founded and led by sex workers who believe in self-determination, solidarity and co-operation. They campaign for the rights and safety of everyone who sells sexual services and organise skill-shares and support meet-ups just for sex workers, as well as public events.

Terrence Higgins Trust: is a national charity providing support for people with HIV and information and services to promote good sexual health

Pineapple Support: is a registered charity that provides 24/7 online emotional support as well as free and subsidized professional therapy and advice to all performers and producers who have been active in the adult online industry within the past 6 months.

Citizens Advice Bureau: a national organisation offering advice on a range of issues, including money and debt, housing and the legal system

Other support on campus 

Open Door Team, who provide support for students experiencing psychological or mental health difficulties

University Student advisers, who offer support for students including advice on housing, financial matters (including Student Support Funds); and support for estranged students