LECTURERS AND STUDENTS have defended a sex workers’ support service who held a stall at university freshers’ fairs.

Following an outcry in sections of the media, an investigation has been launched by the University of Brighton and by the University of Sussex, into the appearance of Sex Worker’s Outreach Project (Swop) at both university’s freshers’ fairs.

Daily Mail columnist Julie Bindell claimed that the group’s stall was “pimping the sex trade to women” and normalising sex work.

However, lecturers, students and experts in the field of sex workers’ rights and safety have fully supported the organisation’s work and denied that any kind of investigation was necessary.

Professor Alison Phipps, who lectures in gender studies at the university, said: “There is no need for investigations by the Universities of Sussex or Brighton.

“Swop provide support & care for students selling sex, and to suggest they are promoting the industry is ridiculous.”

The Sex Worker’s Outreach Project is a scheme run by women’s charity Brighton Oasis, who help keep women working in sex work safe.

A spokeswoman for the group said: “We have never idealised sex work but we understand why students may turn to it.

“We help students who are going to work in the industry, who can be very vulnerable, by offering advice on safety and legal issues via our anonymous helpline.”

Parker Robinson, a Vice-President of the University of Brighton’s student union, said: “It’s great knowing there are services available ready to help students through difficulties they might be experiencing.

“Obviously they are not suggesting people become sex workers, but rather they are supporting those who already are doing this kind of work, offering them advice and keeping them safe.”

According to figures published by Swop, one in six students will do sex work or consider doing it to help pay for their studies.

A Leeds University study found that 49% of sex workers in the UK are “worried” or “very worried” about their safety and 47% have been targeted by offenders, and work carried out by Professor Phipps has shown that 81 per cent of sex workers surveyed had experienced violence.

Professor Phipps’ research also showed that working indoors, which is safer but illegal, was still dangerous for women, as 48 per cent of indoor sex workers were the victims of violence or sexual assaults.

In a statement the University of Brighton said: “The freshers fair is an event organised by students for students and as such is managed by the students’ union.

“The university is nevertheless exploring this matter further with the students’ union to allow us to gain a full understanding of the aims in inviting Swop to the event and to ensure due care is taken when presenting students with third-party information on highly sensitive and emotive issues.”