Students involved in the sex industry may face disciplinary action for bringing their university into disrepute, according to a study that also says that institutions should not be “policing” students’ lives.
In the absence of any institutional policies on student sex work, some professional staff and students’ union staff interviewed by researchers from Swansea University and Kingston University said that they would take action against student sex workers in case they put the university’s reputation at risk.
However, other staff interviewed for the study, published in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management this month, said that they would take a more supportive approach by referring student sex workers to their health, counselling or financial support teams.
The study, which contacted 106 staff at 12 universities in Wales, was conducted by the same Swansea research team behind the Student sex work project report, published earlier this year, which claims that one in 20 students take part in the sex industry.
Many of the staff interviewed said that students had informed them about their sex work, such as working as prostitutes and escorts, glamour modelling and being a naked butler, the new study says.
Despite the prevalence of student sex work, staff awareness of issues related to the industry is fairly poor, it adds.
There are “widespread inaccurate perceptions regarding the legality of various kinds of sex work”, such as the belief that students are breaking the law if they sell sex in a private place, the paper says.
Those institutions that sought to discipline students involved in sex work risked alienating them – a move that also would represent an unwarranted intrusion into their personal lives, the study argues.
“Universities’ responsibilities lie not in censoring or policing what their students do away from the campus but in ensuring their well-being on it,” it says.
Enquiring about student sex work should be banned under harassment and bullying policies as it may lead to stigmatisation and bullying, the study argues.
The paper calls for institutions to develop policies and training in this area to ensure an “individualised approach” to student sex workers with “heightened attention to student confidentiality”.