Re-thinking our approach to vulnerable groups

No platforming serves only to protect the oppression of society’s most vulnerable

Image: Caitlin Childs

This week begins the Sex Worker Solidarity campaign spearheaded by LGBTQ trans* convener Ashley Reed. The campaign seeks to address issues relating to sex work in a way accessible to university students.

According to Swansea University’s Student Sex Work Project, five per cent of university students have been involved in sex work, with twenty-two per cent having considered it as an option.

The Sex Worker Solidarity campaign has its own survey with a total of 185 responses. The campaign relates to a greater extent to trans* issues since according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey “11 per cent of trans* people said they had done sex work, compared to 1 per cent of cis women.”

This all comes aptly in the wake of recent controversies relating to sex work and LGBTQ rights. A few weeks ago the York Union, an unratified debating society, held a debate on the decriminalisation of sex work.

They chose to invite trans*-exclusive and sex-worker-exclusive radical feminist Julie Bindel as a panellist. Interestingly, neither LGBTQ nor the Women’s Officers were consulted on if this was a good idea, though a statement was released in both networks condemning the decision.

The argument I always seem to hear against no platforming is that in the real world people get to say all sorts of nasty things. So therefore we must try to emulate that so that it isn’t a shock to the poor sensitive PC types who’ve spent their lives wrapped in cotton wool.

I agree wholeheartedly with the former.  What is rarely noted is that in the real world the people with power are the ones whose voices are prioritised. The voices of vulnerable people are stifled constantly by oppressive social structures.

Why should we try to emulate the real world when we could make changes to improve it at a grassroots level?

On the York Union website it states that the society “believes in freedom of expression and Nouse is also committed to this principle. British universities have a duty to defend the ‘unsafe’ space. We feel both societies must play their part in promoting free debate and discussion on campus.”

By not promoting safe spaces you’re doing nothing more radical than maintaining the status quo. Safe spaces allow for the voices of people affected by issues to be prioritised, when they are silenced literally everywhere else.

In the event of people speaking at York, it is forgotten that the university campus is not a public space. Students live here and it should be treated as a domestic space.

Just as you might not want somebody coming to your own house and spouting abuse, students should likewise have the right to reject this from external speakers.

The voices of trans* students need to be at the forefront of this particular discussion, as well as the debate on sex work and the conversation regarding combatting oppression.


  1. 13 Nov ’15 at 11:24 am

    Geoffrey Magyar

    The York Union is the only true bastion of freedom of speech on this campus, allowing all voices to be heard. That’s what creates a democracy and YUSU shouldn’t go meddling to curb these fundamental freedoms. Better to fight your political opponents head on for the oppressed, not to shelter away like a coward under anti-democratic ‘no platform’ policies like you’re suggesting.

    Reply Report

  2. Feel free to go to events where the speakers all agree with your views and don’t challenge you. That would be an awesome debate.

    It is democracy’s job to put into plain sight when someone’s views are ill-judged, not yours.

    If students would rather not see someone speak because they find their views on something errogous then that’s for them to decide. For you to take away their opportunity to make that choice is controlling and intrusive.

    This is not your remit YUSU. Are you going to ban scientific societies that offend religious ones by rejecting creationism? How does one measure offence? How many does one have to offend? Who decides what is offensive? What if I’m offended but I shouldn’t really be offended.. Should yusu ban a speaker because only I would be offended by them at my university..? What if it’s offensive that I’m offended?


    Reply Report

Leave a comment

Please note our disclaimer relating to comments submitted. Please do not post pretending to be another person. Nouse is not responsible for user-submitted content.