Skip to main content

7th February 2022

Is UoM doing enough to support its student sex workers?

What the leader of the Support for Student Sex Workers campaign has to say about why the uni needs to do more to support its students
Is UoM doing enough to support its student sex workers?
Photo: Support Sex Workers @instagram: supportforstudentsexworkers

Only three Russell Group universities, Manchester, Durham and Newcastle, have an official policy in place to protect and support their students engaged in sex work.

Save the Students have found that 3% of students have engaged in sex work, a statistic they describe as small but consistent each year. Although for many, selling sex might be the first thing that springs to mind, 39% of this work involved the selling of intimate photos and 28% involved the selling of used clothes. 

The University of Manchester links the Support for Student Sex Workers campaign on its Student Union site. There is a Facebook link, the offer to help with CVs and a promise of 1-1 support. Although this does seemingly place UoM amongst the more progressive universities, is the University as an institution doing enough? The Mancunion spoke to Jessica Hyer Griffin, the support lead of the campaign, to find out.

I asked Jess what specific support is offered to student sex workers on campus. She detailed that Support for Student Sex Workers offer confidential sex worker led peer support. This protects all sex workers and anyone who identifies with the sex work community. Tailored support is on offer and takes many forms – be it a 1-1 session, in person, over the phone or in groups. 

The team is comprised of people with professional mental health experience and people with lived experience working hard to offer services beyond the mental health support detailed above. Student sex workers can seek career and academic advice and CV checks. They are offered opportunities to build creative portfolios, and are supported when reporting rape or sexual assault (be it on or off campus).

Jess, who is not directly affiliated with or employed by UoM, handles all urgent queries and guarantees to respond to requests within 24 hours over the phone as the support lead. Specialising in psychological trauma, her day-to-day job consists of advocating for sex workers across multiple universities and providing mental health support (often in times of crisis).

Jess engages in noble and important work, filling the vacuum of support left by institutions. From chatting to her it is clear that there is a general culture of misunderstanding around what sex work comprises of, and the effects it has on an individual. She is, “proud of the trust her community has in her,” and regularly keeps up with the sex workers she supports.

I asked Jess if she could provide me with any anecdotes of how sex workers find their experience at University or are treated in general. I was privileged that she shared her own story with me. As an undergrad she was fired from around 14 waitressing and bar jobs because of her bipolar disorder. Having also developed PTSD and agoraphobia, from circumstances unrelated to sex work, she found full-service sex work to be the only line of work that could suit her needs as a disabled survivor. 

“Working on a bar, on a 12-hour shift with only five-minute cigarette breaks for minimum wage is not in the least bit viable. And for this reason, making more than you can obtain from a full shift in a low paid job in one hour of sex work is an attractive option for students who are looking to juggle their studies with their employment, and struggling with their finances.”

Arguably, Jess felt more oppressed as a waitress than she did in sex work, despite the risk of sexual assault and dangerous clients she experienced. She explained that sex workers often have complex needs, meaning they are often rejected from services for being “too high risk.” She firmly believes that in these situations you need just one person not to give up on you and that is the service she provides for the people who contact her. 

As a community, there is definitely work that needs to be done on reducing the stigma around sex work. Something we can all reflect on as a student body with active sex work going on in our community. The stigma brings personal shame and the need to keep secrets relating to the work of Jess and those she supports – this alongside lack of support options is commonly regarded as the most difficult part of the job. 

On an institutional level, Universities need to open up a dialogue that reduces the shame that can be felt. According to Jess, “every student needs to know they deserve support and have the right to be supported regardless of what they do to make a living.”

It is completely acceptable, Jess explains, for staff at the University to admit that disclosures around sex work are not their speciality and that you might need to refer someone on when out of your depth. This is due to safeguarding procedures, but she is eager to express her willingness to help and support that person with absolutely anything that is within her power. It is vital that our fellow students engaged in such work are referred on to peer organisations – like Jess’ – who do have the means to support them and can offer them a community of understanding. 

I asked Jess if she would be comfortable sharing any statistics on how many students she has helped at the University of Manchester. Understandably, she explained that she does not give out numbers as it feels wrong to her to out how many people are sex working at UoM. Another testament to the honest and selfless service she provides. However, she did explain that she has helped many UoM students personally and several have gotten work experience within her team.

Whilst the University’s stance of support and official endorsement of Support for Student Sex Workers is a step ahead of many other Russell Group Universities. Jess ends by telling me the University has a lot more to do in its sex-positive journey. 

“Although through my work with the University of Leicester, where I train university staff on disclosures relating to sex work and other matters relating to sex work, we have trained a good few members of UoM staff here, there needs to be much more training done to wider groups of staff.”

Jess is available as the support lead over email: [email protected] or over the phone by text: 07455310289.

Alternatively, she recommends her website for a list of all peer support workers, who have a range of experience to suit individual needs, all of whom aim to reply within 4 days. Give @supportforstudentsexworkers a follow next time you open up your Instagram in solidarity with your fellow students.

Libby Elliott

Libby Elliott

Editor-in-Chief 2023-24 | Awarded Outstanding Contribution to The Mancunion and Fuse TV Presenter of the Year at the 2023 MMG Awards | Former Co-Investigations Editor | Shortlisted for the SPA2022 Rising Star Award |

More Coverage

Challenges facing international students at the University of Manchester: Where do we fit in?

Under-resourced UK universities lean on international student fees to supplement their institutions; simultaneously, Britain’s borders are becoming more restrictive to students under the current government. This paradox leaves international students caught in the crossfire

The post-diss bliss…or is it?

The promise of post-dissertation freedom was quickly squashed by essay deadline demands, and the desire to do anything but re-open my laptop is taking over

200 years of the University of Manchester… celebrating white male alumni

As the University of Manchester prepares its bicentenary celebrations, it’s time to address the less-celebrated alumni, and question why these individuals have received less attention

Why are we still talking about ‘women who have it all’?

The ‘women who have it all’ narrative is alive and kicking in 2024, but instead of being empowering, it’s a patriarchal trope designed to pit one against another