Students will have the chance to vote on whether Edinburgh University Students' Association (EUSA) should actively support the decriminalisation of sex work at the Student Council meeting on Thursday 6 February.
The motion will call for EUSA to issue a statement demanding decriminalisation and to liaise with organisations such as SCOT-PEP and the Sex Worker’s Open University to work towards this goal.
The motion will also result in a zero-tolerance attitude to “whorephobia” and an investigation into how to support student sex workers at the university.
Finally, EUSA will disparage anti-sex worker campaigns employed at other universities.
The vote will take place following news that Edinburgh City Council has decided not to license sauna and massage parlours, a policy shift away from the prior acceptance towards sex work by the city.
Naomi Beecroft - the student proposing the motion - told The Journal: “Repression of sex workers right here in Edinburgh is a huge issue, and one EUSA is well-placed to fight on."
She said that police repression is resulting in aggressive raids, denial of licenses and the police requesting that saunas be banned from stocking items of a sexual nature.
The request from Police Scotland has been withdrawn.
Beecroft raised concerns that this crackdown will result in people being put out of work, losing their homes, getting poorer pay, being unable to organise and people being put in danger.
She said: "EUSA recently declared itself a feminist organisation. For me this is the most important issue for feminists in Edinburgh right now, and we have to do everything within our power to stop it.”
The Journal spoke to a student who worked as an escort to underwrite her expenses.
She said: “Honestly, I think it's degrading to be a 'sugar baby' - using my body was the lowest thing I've done to pay for school. But it worked.”
Rhoda Grant, MSP for the Highlands and Islands who has previously campaigned against the content of Beecroft’s motion told The Journal: “I strongly believe that students should vote against this motion as simply decriminalising prostitution doesn't protect vulnerable people from this exploitative industry."
Grant said: "Our country criminalises the prostitute but protects the exploiter, is wrong on every level and needs to be addressed"
She argued that the student union does have a role in supporting those who have been exploited in this way, helping them to exit the industry, supporting them to maintain their studies and promoting their wellbeing.
"To suggest that women should sell themselves in order to access an education seems to me to be wrong on a number of fronts: Education is liberating, sexual exploitation is not. Many students who are enticed down this route often drop out of their studies. The realities of prostitution are not glamorous or sexually liberating – just the opposite,” Grant added.
The Sex Worker Open University organistion stated: "Sex Worker Open University is very grateful to EUSA… We strongly support an approach to the debate on sex work that recognise the agency of sex workers."
The statement continued: "Far from the simplification of prohibitionists who would like to portray all sex workers as victims and 'prostitued women' in order to rescue us, the motion of EUSA recognise that sex workers have a voice and have expressed their demands. Decriminalisation is one of these demands.”
The organisation SCOT-PEP told The Journal: “SCOT-PEP welcomes the support of EUSA and the motion on the decriminalisation of sex work. Sex workers need rights, not so-called rescue.”