The Cambridge Union is to hold a debate tonight on the motion 'This House Would Liberalise Prostitution'Simon Lock

The CUSU Women’s Campaign (WomCam) has condemned the Cambridge Union for holding a debate tonight entitled ’This House Would Liberalise Prostitution”, and for inviting feminist activist Julie Bindel to speak at it.

However, the Union has informed Varsity that Bindel will no longer be speaking at the debate.

In a statement on Facebook, WomCam accused the Union of choosing “to rehash the same tired debate” on the decriminalisation of sex work in spite of “overwhelming consensus among sex workers that their work should be decriminalised”. They expressed their “solidarity with students who will be harmed by it.”

The statement acknowledges that current and former sex workers speaking against the motion at the debate do not “lack agency”, but criticised the use of the word ‘prostitution’, which they claimed “cannot be separated from the damaging myths and painful history that surrounds it.”

They linked this controversy with a broader trend at the debating society of holding events which “diminish certain issues that tangibly affect human lives to formal debate.” WomCam recognised the importance of tolerating a variety of views, but insisted that the Union is collaborating in “creating a context where human life is given equal weight to personal belief.”

The campaign further accused the Union of feeling “obliged to invite ‘controversial’ speakers to balance the conversation and draw a wide audience”, singling out Julie Bindel, who will be speaking at the debate, for “sex-worker exclusionary feminism” and “blatant transphobia”.

The Union invited Bindel, they alleged, “in the hope that she would pack the room precisely because many are aware of her views”, which amounts to “sending a message that it is content to reward speakers for their bigotry and try to profit from the controversy that bigotry creates themselves.”

They added that Bindel’s presence would have prioritised her “free speech over that of trans people”, as possibly few transgender people “would have accepted an invitation to speak at this debate knowing they would have to argue alongside someone who would deny them a fundamental part of their identity and the rights that accompany the recognition of that identity.”

In the same vein, WomCam criticised the invitation of “rampant rape apologist Luke Gittos” to speak at the same debate.

WomCam concluded by explaining that it had put out the statement because it is incumbent upon them to speak out in favour of transgender people “when we see their interests being trampled upon”, adding that to “remain silent would be an act of violence”.

A spokesperson for the Union told Varsity: “We have tremendous respect for the Woman’s Campaign and the work that they do protecting vulnerable students. The Union would like to respectfully point out that Julie Bindel will not be attending this evening’s debate and would encourage students who are interested in hearing from sex workers to approach the three of them in this evening’s debate.”

Bindel was listed as a speaker on the termcard at the beginning of term but has since been removed. The spokesperson said of her absence: “I can confirm that Julie Bindel was not disinvited by the Union and that her absence is in no way related to WomCam’s statement.”

This is not the first time the Union has courted controversy with feminist issues. Last year, it was criticised for its decision to extend a speaking invitation to Julian Assange, who has faced allegations of sexual assault in Sweden