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

Sex Worker Open University (SWOU)

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 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 movie 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 reasons, deserve the same legal and human rights as all other workers and 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

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)

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

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.

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 
  • 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.

More information is available on the Sex Worker Open University (SWOU) website