This week a student council meeting, held on 25 March , addressed the topic of student sex workers. Two antithetical motions were proposed by Lucy Da Costa and Nicole Jones, with Costa arguing against the Nordic Model and Jones for it.
A survey by Save the Student, revealed that of 3,300 students, one in twenty-five had engaged in sex work, which is an increase from one in fifty in 2017 when tuition fees were capped at £9000 per year.
Data also shows that two-thirds of all students had to independently earn their income to support their university education.
The Covid-19 pandemic brought about further financial pressure, swaying more students to sex work, which includes escorting, stripping, pole dancing, pornography, lap dancing, web cam work, adult modelling, phone sex, and selling sex.
Although the current Scottish legal system does not penalise selling sex, it does criminalise “soliciting”, street prostitution, and “brothel-keeping”.
This ambiguity leaves many young sex workers unprotected and vulnerable.
According to the Transgender Europe report, 62 per cent of all murdered trans and gender-diverse people in Europe are sex workers.
Moreover, a recent legislative bill in England and Wales proposes the adoption of the Nordic model, which criminalises the buying of sex but decriminalises prostitution.
Speaking about her reasons for proposing the motion, Lucy Da Costa told The Student:
“I decided to bring this motion to the student council as the Students’ Association currently does not have a policy on the matter.
“Student sex workers are historically underrepresented, so it is vital both the University [of Edinburgh] and Students’ Association work to support them.
“My motion supports the full decriminalisation of sex work, in line with the stances of sex worker-led organisations such as SWARM and Scot-Pep.
“There is a large body of evidence demonstrating that criminalising clients, using the Nordic model, has overwhelmingly negative outcomes for sex workers.”
Costa’s proposal for the student council includes support for student sex workers; lobbying the university to declare their support for students; signposting students to sex worker-led organisations; campaigning for full decriminalisation of sex work, and hosting information for students entering sex work on the Students’ Association’s website.
Challenging the original motion, Nicole Jones proposed an amended version that invites both support and criticism of sex workers.
She argues that supporters of the Nordic model believe that prostitution is inherently exploitative and full decriminalisation of the industry increases the risk of harm and trafficking.
She further states that many feminists, human rights campaigners, and survivors of the sex trade are supporters of the Nordic model.
However, her amendment was rejected with only three supporting votes.
Following the rejection of the amendment, Costa affirms the motion intends to oppose the university’s support for the Nordic model and create a safe space for all students who are seeking support.
She argues that the student council is independent of the university, and therefore should not conform to the same verdict.
Anna Cowan also spoke in favour of the original motion and emphasised that this debate is not about ideology but rather the welfare of students.
Concern about he potential danger of the Nordic model, which the university supports, has extended beyond the student council with the University of Edinburgh Feminist Society also taking action to raise awareness about the plight of student sex workers.
The society hosted a panel featuring experts discussing the fight for sex workers’ rights which attracted a large body of support.