When I became a feminist in my late teens, I joined the women’s group at the University of Leeds and met students who fought tooth and nail for equality. One of our main battles was against prostitution, which we saw as outright abuse.
If anyone had suggested that women entangled in prostitution had freely ‘chosen’ or ‘enjoyed’ this way of making money, we would have regarded it as a total fantasy spread by those – mostly men – who exploit them. The insulting idea that selling yourself was somehow empowering certainly never crossed our minds.
And yet this idea is everywhere now. I can’t even escape it when I turn on Showtrial, the BBC’s latest Sunday night drama. From the team that gave us Line Of Duty and The Bodyguard, it revolves around a wealthy college student who nevertheless works in the sex industry to pay her way through college.
Under the pseudonym Lady Tease, Talitha Campbell describes her webcam and escort work as “no problem” and something that “a lot of students do.”
Julie Bindel believes that universities should not give women the idea that renting their bodies is a viable career. Pictured: Precocious student Talitha in BBC series Showtrial who does sex work to pay for college
She is the epitome of glorified prostitution. Conventionally attractive and hugely privileged – totally atypical for the majority of prostituted women around the world – her character serves to normalize and glorify the brutal abuse of women’s bodies.
However, the plot is in some ways not as far-fetched as it first seems. Because there really is a terrifying trend for students to get into prostitution. A recent survey by financial website Save The Student shows that three percent of students have done some form of ‘sex work’. And another nine percent said they would call on them in a financial emergency.
And rather than curbing such activities, our respected educational institutions provide “support” and “advice” to the students who participate. Durham University, which offers such support alongside Brighton and Leicester, has recently come under fire over an email from its sorority that offers staff and students an ‘educational opportunity’ to support students working in the sex industry.
A popular American show, The Girlfriend Experience, also presents a fictionalized account of so-called high-end prostitution where young women are paid to go on vacation and pretend to be a man’s girlfriend.
Such glossy shows are primarily aimed at women and yet, in my opinion, they act almost like a recruiting sergeant for the sex trade. The fact is that prostitution only benefits men, but these programs propagate the idea that selling sex somehow makes women stronger.
You could accuse their creators of simply seeking a cheap thrill to keep us glued to our screens – but I believe the problem goes much deeper and stems from a fundamental shift in how we view prostitution. Many academics now seem to view it as a job like any other.
A few years ago I attended a conference in Vienna on prostitution. I was one of only four delegates out of 185 who sat on a panel and stated that we were affected by the despicable trade. The others believed that all aspects of the sex industry should be decriminalized.
Interestingly, despite this, none of them seem to have left the ivory towers of academia to work in brothels. Perhaps they think that only women at the bottom of the social ladder should do such a ‘job’?
A recent survey by financial website Save The Student shows that three percent of students have done some form of ‘sex work’. Pictured: BBC’s Showtrial
To be clear, I do not believe that women who are in prostitution should be punished for the terrible situation they are in. But I strongly believe that we should all fight to stop this filthy trade however we can – meaning those who pimp or pay for women’s bodies should be treated harshly by the law.
And universities should guide young women to fulfilling jobs, not thinking that renting out their bodies to men is a viable career choice. Even more bizarre, students are given advice on how to talk to their peers who are involved in prostitution.
The email from the Durham sorority suggested supporting “students involved in the adult sex industry” through “informed advice, destigmatization and collaboration with expert organisations.” Don’t they see how such an approach could legitimize a dangerous and exploitative trade for impressionable young minds? Such normalization of the sex trade can only lead to expansion. Countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, which promote prostitution as regular work, have seen both street prostitution and street prostitution flourish.
In Germany, there are several super-brothels in cities like Munich and Berlin, which can accommodate up to 600 gamblers at a time. New locations open regularly and the sex trade is rife in every municipality across the country.
But visiting a prostitute should never be as simple as going to your local Tesco.
Charities say up to 95 percent of women in street prostitution are addicted to Class A drugs. Pictured: BBC’s Showtrial
Overwhelming evidence shows that many women enter the sex trade when they are under the age of 18 — and histories of sexual abuse, physical assault and childhood neglect are rife.
Many women in the sex industry have been forced and bullied into selling sex by an abusive partner. Charities say up to 95 percent of women in street prostitution are addicted to class A drugs, primarily to block out the misery of their day-to-day experience.
I did what is still the most comprehensive survey in the UK on barriers to women leaving the sex industry, and each of the 114 women we interviewed told us they desperately wanted to leave but rarely had the chance to. to do.
Disturbingly, I am sure that today’s student counselors see themselves as very different from such desperate women.
Platforms like OnlyFans — where women can charge a monthly fee to grant access to explicit photos and videos of themselves — are largely seen as a harmless way to earn extra cash to splurge on luxuries. But you can’t just dip your toe into the sex trade.
OnlyFans model Abigail Furness, 21, was terrorized for over a year by one of her subscribers, who stalked her at her parents’ home and even followed her on vacation to Ibiza. It is clear that men who pay for all forms of sexual services can find a way to intimidate, abuse or terrorize women.
Julie (pictured) says we need to end the insidious portrayal of glamorous escorts who can afford the luxuries of life with little personal expense
Fortunately, there are those who are fighting back against this rising tide. Labor MP Dame Diana Johnson has started the process to ban the buying of sex by introducing amendments to the law on police, crime, sentencing and courts. She wants the law to punish those who buy sex rather than those who sell it, bringing us one step closer to protecting women while powerfully dispelling men of the idea that it is a human right to pay for sexual services.
In recent years, however, slow progress has been made in this area – at least in part because the language surrounding prostitution has been uselessly purged. Trafficking in women has been cleaned up as ‘sex work’. Pimps are often described as ‘managers’ and, especially within academia, the trafficking of women in prostitution has been rewritten as ‘migration for sex work’.
This same language is then often sold to students who are not offered an alternative point of view. It’s also used by journalists lobbying pressure groups like Britain’s Collective of Prostitutes, who claim to be experts while rejecting what the majority of sex trade survivors say about the true horrors of prostitution.
Meanwhile, campaigners fighting to criminalize prostitution have been called anti-sex moralists. They are ridiculed as old-fashioned for not understanding how the sale of sex “empowers” women.
Well, how depressingly ironic. For the sake of a generation of young girls, we must stop diluting the ugly truth. We must put an end to the insidious portrayal of glamorous escorts who can afford the luxuries of life with little personal expense.
The sex trade is not an easy commercial opportunity. We should call this what it is: harmful sexual exploitation, which is thriving here and now in Britain, right under our noses.