Minister ‘deeply concerned’ as university defends offering training to students working in sex industry

University bosses have defended their decision to offer training sessions to help students who have become involved in sex work.

Durham University said it was acting responsibly by offering students advice on how to stay safe in sex work, after Higher and Further Education Minister Michelle Donelan said she was “deeply concerned” by the move.

Last week the Durham students’ union sent an email inviting staff and students to take part in level one and level two training for people involved in the sex industry.

It said: “Student sex workers should not face any barriers to accessing support which is well informed and free from prejudice.

“The SU position on students in sex work are clear: support, informed advice, de-stigmatisation and collaboration with expert organisations.”

Durham University said the training was to ensure students were safe and was brought in following requests over the years “from a small number of concerned students”.

A spokesman said: “We are emphatically not seeking to encourage sex work but we are seeking to provide support to our students.

“We don’t judge, we listen, support and give practical help.

“We run many courses for students and staff on topics from mental health and wellbeing to drug and alcohol awareness.

“The intent here is to ensure that social stigma does not prevent students who might be vulnerable or at risk from accessing the support they need and to which they are entitled.”

The spokesman added: “We make no apologies for working to ensure that Durham is a safe environment for all of our students and staff.

“We are extremely disappointed by the way the intentions for, and content of this session, have been misinterpreted.”

The statement followed critical comments made by the Higher and Further Education Minister.

Ms Donelan said: “I’m deeply concerned that any university is legitimising a dangerous industry which thrives on the exploitation of women.

“Any university that does this is badly failing in their duty to protect students.

“It is right that vital support is offered to women who are being exploited.

“However, this course seeks to normalise selling sex, which has no place in our universities.

“We know this is a sector that can target young women and students and trap them in the role.

“Universities should be focusing their energy on raising awareness of the dangers of this amongst their student body and supporting women.

“Students facing hardship should be supported by their institution, and the Government put in an extra £85m last year for universities to help students struggling.”

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