Sex Worker Open University 2011 opens in London 12 – 16 October

The second edition of the pioneering London Sex Worker Open University will happen at The Arcola Theatre (24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London E8 3DL) in East London 12-16 October, bringing together sex workers and allies from around the world to learn new skills, socialise and empower themselves, whilst exploring the diversity and contradictions of the sex industry.


Highlights include: more than 50 talks, practical workshops and discussions by sex workers and allies including internationally recognised academics, activists, service providers and artists, on numerous topics related to the sex industry, plus a host of topical performances, films and art. Key events include a demonstration outside Parliament calling for the decriminalisation of sex work in the UK, an evening dedicated to bringing together acclaimed international sex workers’ rights activists to share their diversity of experiences from around the globe, plus a packed performance and short film night which will explore issues and themes related to the sex industry.

Full programme of events can be found at A number of sessions are open to the public, whilst others are reserved for sex workers only.  Entry is by suggested donation (£5 per day or part day, or £20 for the entire event) – people on no/low incomes will be asked to pay what they can afford and no one will be turned away because of lack of funds. There is no need to preregister, unless stated, and all events are on a first-come, first-served basis.

Organisers of the Sex Worker Open University commented: “The Open University initiative, which is organised by and for sex workers, is a unique project bringing together sex workers from around the world to meet each other, learn from each other, share skills, experiences, ideas and ultimately empower each other. For many, sex work is a decision, even when made in difficult economic and legal circumstances and we challenge the popular stereotype of sex workers as victims or criminals. We believe firmly that those who choose to work in the sex industry, for whatever reason, deserve the same legal and human rights as all other workers and that criminalisation only increases our vulnerability and oppression at work.”

Events open to the public include:


10am – 12 midday Wednesday 12 October @ Arcola – Launch event with introductions from SWOU organisers


6-8pm Thursday 13 October @ Old Palace Yard, Westminster (just beside Houses of Parliament) – Demonstration for the decriminalisation and labour rights for all sex workers in the UK. Bring red umbrellas, banners and placards

Facebook event –


3-6pm Friday 14 October @ Arcola – Range of presentations from leading academics, whose research interests include sex work around the world:

  • History of the sex workers’ rights movement in UK (Thierry Schaffauser, President of GMB branch I50 (sex workers), Director NSWP Europe, SWOU member);
  • Migration & sex industry (Dr Nick Mai, Reader in Migration Studies at London Metropolitan University, Director of COMIDAS RAPIDAS, MOTHER EUROPE & NORMAL);
  • Where do we go from here? Sex worker activism and anti-trafficking (Dr. Jo Doezema, independent researcher, sex worker activist)
  • Professional girlfriends in Cambodia (Dr Heidi Hoefinger, social researcher and sex worker rights activist, SWOU member);
  • Trafficking in Portugal, globalisation and social panics (Filipa Alvim, CRIA (Portugal) anthropologist; researcher; activist; PhD candidate – trafficking)

Facebook event –


7-11pm Friday 14 October @ Arcola – Presentations from leading international sex worker rights’ activists from around the world including Turkey, Japan, Bangladesh, Ireland, Germany, France, Canada, Netherlands, USA and UK

Facebook event –


8-11pm Saturday 15 October @ Arcola – A packed evening of performances and short films:


Performances include:


  • ·         Sex worker storytelling from New York with Audacia Ray and her Red Umbrella sessions;
  • ·         Anna Peak’s “Between the Sessions” exploring the space in between clients: ‘Phone calls and cleaning – ooooh my the service industry…’;
  • ·         Dance performance by two members of Japanese sex-worker NGO SWASH that promises to challenge preconceptions;
  • ·         Presentation by The Urban Chick Supremacy Cell – ethical pornography loosely based on female supremacist Valerie Solanas’ work (SCUM Manifesto)
  • ·         Plus surprises from London and Berlin


Films include:

  • COMMON LIFE (UK 2011) Dir. Clare Havell, 13m,30s – Premiere of new short film looking at sex work in Istanbul, against the broader political context
  • ALL THAT SHELTERING EMPTINESS (USA 2010) Dirs. Gina Carducci and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, 7m, 16mm – A meditation on elevators, hotel lobbies, hundred dollar bills, the bathroom, a cab, chandeliers, cocktails, the receptionist, arousal, and other routines in the life of a New York City callboy. Explodes the typical narratives of desire, escape and intimacy to evoke something more honest
  • PROSTITUTION FREE ZONE (USA 2009) Dir. PJ Starr, 14m –  In 2006 the city council of Washington DC passed new laws that allowed the Police Chief to call any part of the city a ‘prostitution free zone’ for up to 10 days. This short documentary describes how sex workers, trans people and other communities have organised to oppose the new policy that violates basic civil and human rights
  • A DAY IN HER LIFE (Netherlands 2010) Voices of women in media, 18m – Compilation of 6 short movies made by sex workers in Amsterdam’s Red Light District through the Voices project, whose goal is to use media to create a more humanised and multi-faceted picture of the sex industry. They say: “We want to show this industry as a complex fabric, composed both of women workers who are entitled to demand their rights as workers and women who have been forced into the industry. Many people looking in from the outside have quite a polarised view. Women are either victims, or they are making choices. But as in any other area of life, there are many grey zones”

Facebook event –


Events for sex workers only include:

  • 10am – 6pm Wednesday 12 October @ Arcola – Opening welcome/launch event with the SWOU team; Speak Up! Media Training for sex Workers (led by Audacia Ray; preregister for this workshop – see website for details); Escort buddies – information on website offering support for sex workers (Passionate Penny); Relationships and intimacy (SWOU team)
  • 10am – 4pm Thursday 13 October @ Arcola – Sex workers and disabled clients; Response to criminalisation and the Swedish model (Liad Hussein Kantorowicz); Meditation and mindfulness in sex work practice (SWOU team); Impact of anti-prostitution law on sex workers in Korea and Japan (SWASH)
  • 10am – 11pm Friday 14 October @ Arcola – Emotional boundaries with clients / keeping safe (Dominic Davies), Organising with migrant workers (SERTUC), Safer sex – peer-to-peer discussions (SWOU team); Interpersonal intimacy, sculpture, responsibility and identity (Mareen Scholl); Feminist self-defence (SWOU team); Career transitions in the sex  industry (Celso Lopez)
  • 10am – 6pm Friday 14 October @ The Pot – There will be a series of hands on erotic professional skills workshops taking place at The Pot, a beautiful sex-positive sensual workshop space in East London. These include: Conscious touch (Rebecca Lowrie), Introduction to sacred kink (London Faerie) and Erotic skills for sex workers (Ms Tytania). NB. preregistration required for events at The Pot – see  for details; also Facebook event at
  • 10am – 11pm Saturday 15 October @ Arcola – Whoring 101 (Marcus);  Law in the UK (ECP); Critical whiteness: analysis of race and class privileges in sex workers’ rights movement (Hydra); Sacred sexuality/sex workers in the ancient world/temples of Inanna (Lindsay Wolf); Self defence / martial art (Ben)
  • 10am – 7pm Sunday 16 October @ Arcola – Reducing stigma and building our capacity (with Nengeh Mensah, Tuulia Law, preregister for this workshop – see website); Friends, families, partners (SWOU team); Interpersonal intimacy, sculpture, responsibility and identity (Mareen); Sex worker activism around the world – Different histories (Laura Agustín); Pole Dancing/Strip tease; Closing event: discussion / feedback


The Sex Worker Open University, which won Pioneer of the Year Award at the Erotic Awards for its first edition in 2009, is grateful to supporters including GMB, GMB Adult Entertainment Branch, SERTUC,, Bondassage and Turn Off The Blue Light.


Key event details:

  • Event title:  London’s Sex Worker Open University 2011
  • Organisers:  Sex Worker Open University
  • Dates: Wednesday 12 – Sunday 16 October
  • Times: Various – see programme for timings
  • Primary venue: Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London E8 3DL
  • Tickets: For most event there is no need to register or book in advance – just turn up (*except for those workshops mentioned above).  Suggested donations: £5 per day of workshops; £20 for all 5 days  (NB. No one will be turned away due to lack of funds). For the film/performance night, tickets cost £10 and can be booked via the Arcola. Events at The Pot (practical erotic skill sharing workshops): £10 for each of the two 90 min sessions, £15 for the 2-hr session; £30 for the entire day of 3 workshops. Places can be booked at

More info:  


– Ends –


For media enquiries, interviews and further information, please email or call             07745 651634      .


About the London Sex Worker Open University

Our aim is to empower through workshops, debates, actions and art projects as well as fighting against criminalisation. We want to give a voice to sex workers, whose lives are too often stereotyped and voices too often silenced. We want to challenge media sensationalism, which, hand in hand with the UK government, often represents sex workers as victims or criminals. A society that recognises, accepts, respects and values sex workers is a fairer and more mature society. The first Sex Worker Open University event, which took place in London in April 2009, was a great success bringing together more than 200 sex workers, sex workers’ rights activists, allies and visitors from the UK and abroad took part in workshops, discussions, actions and art exhibits over five days.

About Thierry Schaffauser

Queer, sex worker, drugs user, student in Gender History, GMB trade unionist, migrant, wants to change the world, etc
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5 Responses to Sex Worker Open University 2011 opens in London 12 – 16 October

  1. Andrea.d says:

    I know it is futile asking as you’ll just ban or delete it anyway….so you’re a feminist and a prostitute / stripper / porn performer? is that not a bit like being non-white and supporting slavery?

    • No, because sex work is not slavery.
      When trade unionists are striking to stop the closure of their workplace, would you say that they are supporting capitalism?
      Many anti-capitalist people would say that working is consenting to slavery, we only have the choice of our master but we still have to work for them.
      So if you want to say that sex work is consent to slavery, I can accept that, but only if you say the same thing for all workers.
      Then, you can think in terms of labour rights to improve workers’ condition and you can try to change the whole system, not just implementing prohibitionist measures on one particular group of workers, which reinforces exploitation, violence and stigma and does nothing to stop capitalism and patriarchy.

      • Andrea.d says:

        the worker’s rights argument only applies partly to the sex industry however as it is not the same like any other job.

        I mean ideally we would no soliders or war. no drug dealers / drug addicts, no alcohol / tobacco and nobody addicted to that and no sex workers. for me sex work is closer to soldiers and war than to narcotics or tobacco.

        why? because you trade in human lives and not just some product like coke

  2. I see a big difference between a soldier and me. My work is to provide sexual pleasure to other human beings and make them happy. A soldier job is to kill other human beings. So I see the point why we are against wars, but not against whores.

    Regarding drugs, I think they should be legalised and drug dealers recognised as workers with full labour rights like any other worker.

    Giving pleasure is not a crime.

    • Andrea.d says:

      do you see the point why we are against wars? would you support a 40 billion spending cut to the defense budget which would mean a lot of soldiers would lose their job? even if they tell you they love being a soldier, defending their country and that it makes them proud?

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