University of Coruña cancels sex work conference following 'harassment and cruelty' on social media

The University of Coruña has cancelled an upcoming conference on sex work after ‘harassment and cruelty’ directed towards them on social media.

A discussion workshop on sex work – ‘Xornadas sobre Traballo Sexual [Days on Sex Work]’ – had been organised to take place on 19th September, by a master’s student within the Sociology department, in order to discuss topics related to sex work. Following the announcement of the event, abolitionist activists launched a social media campaign protesting the event, using the hashtag #UniversidadSinProstitucion – ‘university without prostitution’. The University received hundreds of tweets, as well as written complaints to the faculty, and the conference was criticised by the Spanish Secretary of State for Equality as sanctioning illegal activity.

On 12th September, the University released a statement saying they had cancelled the event:

“The fierce rejection, harassment and cruelty we are experiencing on this subject on social media, the misinformation that distorts reality and the comments we have received suggest the impossibility of ensuring the safety of the debate or its academic quality”.

The University confirmed their belief that the University ‘should be an area of ​​freedom to contrast different points of view’, but also confirmed they have always considered sex work a form of ‘sexual exploitation’ and violence against women. In the original statement announcing the event, they again confirmed their position as ‘abolitionist’. As of 12th September, the University reportedly still planned to hold a conference session on violence against women, including a session addressing ‘the issue of prostitution from the perspective of trafficking and sexual violence’.

Sabrina Sánchez from OTRAS and Aprosex said:

"It is inconceivable that in a democratic society a lively debate on society and feminism be censored in such an arbitrary way. Within this attitude, there is a palpable trace of the pre-democratic era that is prevalent within parts of the feminist movement."

A petition has been launched calling on the University to reconsider its decision and sex workers are tweeting their support of the workshop on #UniversidadSinCensura