This move comes amid debates about Amnesty International’s draft policy document supporting sex industry decriminalisation, which has set the organisation at loggerheads with a number of Hollywood celebrities and others – who argue decriminalisation would mean ‘the legalisation of pimping, brothel owning and sex buying.’
The Sex Worker Open University (SWOU) has become an associate member of the University’s multidisciplinary Gender Studies centre. This new partnership will involve joint events and funding bids, as well as research students working with SWOU on their theses and dissertations.
Dr Alison Phipps, Reader in Sociology and director of the Centre for Gender Studies, said: “A great deal of academic research has been carried out into the sex industry – we wanted to take a step further in entering into a collaborative partnership with a sex worker-led organisation, since sex workers themselves are the real experts on their own lives and on policies which affect them.”
Kat, a SWOU spokesperson, said: "We're delighted to be working with the Sussex Centre for Gender Studies.
"Academics have researched sex work for generations, but we have traditionally been objects to be studied rather than full participants with our own expertise and insight. This alliance makes us real contributors to the work of the Centre.
"We're also extremely grateful to the Centre for their organisational support of sex workers' safety and rights, which can only be achieved through full decriminalisation. In a context where we are all too often shut out of debates around our own lives, institutional support like this is invaluable.”
The Centre, which brings together leading academics from Sociology, Law, Politics, Anthropology, Education, Media Studies and Literature, has pledged that it will support a campaign led by the English Collective of Prostitutes to decriminalise the sex industry.
This is a call for decriminalisation for safety’s sake, based on evidence that using the criminal law to regulate sex work has numerous ill-effects on sex workers, including preventing them from working together for safety, reducing their access to health services and stopping them from reporting violence to the police.
The decriminalisation campaign is backed by over 1,200 individuals and organisations including the Royal College of Nursing, Galop (also an associate member of the Centre for Gender Studies), Women Against Rape and SWOU.
“As academics, we are duty bound to consider the evidence - and there is a growing body of work pointing to the fact that criminalisation, including the ‘Nordic Model’ of criminalising clients which many of the groups and individuals currently petitioning Amnesty are advocating, exposes sex workers to violence, health and other risks and does not reduce prostitution’ said Dr Phipps.
"We would be remiss if we ignored these facts. We are proud to be supporting the ECP pledge and calling for policies which will help to protect sex workers."
Laura Watson from the English Collective of Prostitutes commented: “We are delighted that the University of Sussex’s Centre for Gender Studies has pledged its support for decriminalisation.
"The thousands of people who have signed the pledge demonstrate the increasing concern for the rights and safety of sex workers and the strength of the movement for decriminalisation.
"This movement, spearheaded by sex workers, is now rallying to support Amnesty International in its opposition to the harm caused by criminalisation and its fight to protect the human rights of sex workers.”