The Durham Uni Sex Work ‘Scandal’ Explained

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18 November 2021

By Michaela Makusha

Durham University is back in the news – this time, for something they didn’t even do.

On Friday, The Times published an article titled: “Durham University trains its students to be sex workers”.

This was a surprise to me, as a student, because I missed those classes on my timetable.

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This is what actually happened: the student union held a workshop, which was educating people both involved and not involved in the adult sex industry. The workshop was on their rights, how to support students in sex work, and ensuring they don’t face discrimination during their studies.

That’s it. Of all the stories about Durham in the press, it is the most boring.

However, why let facts get in the way of a good story? It spread across Twitter and the media, where so-called ‘experts’ and ‘commentators’ were commenting on something that wasn’t happening for attention.

Unfortunately, many read the article headline, rather than actually speak to the university, and think critically.

Further Education Minister Michelle Donelan had accused Durham of “legitimising a dangerous industry which thrives on the exploitation of women.”

But luckily, the SU has received a lot of support from current and former students and activists, who were quick to point out that the story was grossly misleading.

Welfare & Liberation Officer for the SU Jonah Graham said of the criticism “You’ve got to be maliciously disingenuous to pretend to misunderstand this as anything other than an attempt to support students.”

The SU President, Seun Twins, tweeted a statement in support of the workshop, writing: “Seems like journalistic integrity is taking a hit today with all of this manufactured outrage […] when it comes to women of colour, trans women, or even sex workers inclusive discourse regarding their right to safety is either erased or perverted.”

And in a shocking twist of events, the University themselves released a press statement supporting the SU, and it was actually well-written and good…

It said: “Durham University is a safe place to live, work and study, but we are determined to make it even more so. As a responsible University, we strive to ensure that students who may be vulnerable or at risk are protected and have access to the support to which they are entitled.”



One of the many side effects of the introduction of rising university fees is that many students have to take on more paid work to be able to afford to study and live.

Sex work is one of the world’s oldest and most lucrative professions – perhaps people who are criticising students should ask why they need to take extra, risky, work on top of a heavy workload, to pay for university.

All universities have a duty of care towards their students and the fact that Durham is acknowledging that there are students within this industry and trying to keep them safe and support them in their studies is a good thing.

They have a lot more to do, concerning safeguarding for students from poor and marginalised groups and this is one step in the right direction.

To create faux outrage for clicks and clout further contributes to a culture that endangers women by not wanting to discuss these very real issues.

I never thought I would end an article this way, but I really hope all universities follow Durham’s example and support their students.

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