A major British university has launched an internal investigation after an organization which argues prostitution is a legitimate form of "work" was allowed a booth at a fair for new students.
At the University of Brighton last Tuesday and Thursday, a campus freshers fair — a fair for incoming freshmen — was put on by the student union where the Sex Workers' Outreach Project of Sussex distributed flyers, condoms, and lubricant, and handed out underwear as prizes, reports say. The group also gave advice to students about getting into "sex work," an all-inclusive term that refers to everything from exotic dancing to prostitution.
"1 in 6 students does sex work or thinks about turning to sex work. We can help," SWOP tweeted Thursday.
"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."
SWOP maintains they are a confidential and discrete "trans inclusive service for women working in the sex industry who live or work in Sussex."
Outrage soon ensued online.
Feminist campaigner and author of the The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth Julie Bindel called the booth "beyond disgraceful" on Twitter and demanded an inquiry.
"It makes me so angry that the sex trade's become normalized and pimped to women as though it is a harmless and respectable way to earn a living," Bindel said.
A spokesman for the university said Sunday that the school would be conducting an investigation and "does not promote sex work to its students."
"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."
Yet Tomi Ibukun, president of the student's union which organized the fair, commented to the Sunday Times that SWOP was present at the fair "to raise awareness of the specialist support they provide should it ever be needed."
"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."
SWOP asserted that it does not promote prostitution is ideal but maintained it is a helpful resource for those in it.
"[W]e 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," the group said.
In recent years, prominent human rights organizations have come out in favor of legalizing the sex trade. In 2015, Amnesty International did so and published a "sex workers bill of rights" — which employed human rights and labor rights language to frame prostitution as a profession as though it is just another job.