Doctor or cam girl? Our universities don't think there's much difference
The discovery that the University of Leicester has created a ‘Student Sex Work Toolkit’ shouldn’t surprise anyone. The kit itself is comprehensive, and could presumably be used as a helpful ‘how-to’ guide to get into the sex trade: the legality of sex acts is listed in a handy chart, with ‘selling underwear online for sexual gratification’, ‘escorting’ and ‘sugaring’ all placed in the legal category.
Additionally, the guide provides a kind of ‘sex work do’s and don’ts’ guide for staff, with the rather chilling announcement that staff should avoid ‘assuming the student wants to leave sex work’ or ‘perpetuate myths regarding sex work’. One hopes that the omission in the guide that staff mustn’t pay for the ‘services’ of prostituted students was as to not state the obvious.
Of course, scorn should not fall on Leicester alone. Several prominent universities, including Bristol, Goldsmiths and my own university of Cambridge have either created their own versions of this guide or are in the process of doing so. Today, we live in a bizarro-world where, on one hand, universities will smother their students in endless courses in safe sex, consent and student welfare — while simultaneously ‘supporting’ students working in the most dangerous ‘profession’ on the planet.
Teaching staff are (rightly) reprimanded for sexual improprieties with students, thanks to the imbalance of power between them — yet presumably, should a man in a position of power buy sex from a student, those nasty questions of consent disappear into the ether. There is something unsightly about universities plunging its students into debt while holding up prostitution as a valid choice for financial aid.
Increasingly, it seems that the more ‘radical’ you style yourself as, the more likely you are to start unwittingly repeating ancient libertarian talking points. The radicals approach to sex is something like this: “Out with those stuffy moral arguments! They’re SO 19th century!” What are you really left with once that’s done? Sex is a commodity, women are market actors and universities are giant careers fairs. Whether that student’s future profession will be that of a doctor or an e-prostitute is of no consequence.
Perhaps there is nothing shocking about universities, in their endless quest to produce the best ‘product’ for student consumers, taking on the role of pimps. A brief examination of the reaction from contemporary student feminist groups reveals the sort of logic one would expect from the johns themselves — ‘sex work’ has always existed, will always exist, women have a right to choose to sell sex — and this is a closed debate.
Perhaps the Leicester example shocks only because so few people see just how cynical young people have become about our socio-political futures. A sense of belonging, public morality, community bonds — all of these structures have fallen away in the face of cold, hard market logic.