The misleading figures in the sex industry

Lauren York, writing for Data Journalism Blog, has exposed some of the truths behind the misleading figures that lie within the sex trade, particularly in the trafficking of women.

Echoing this failure to supply factual data, representations of student prostitution in the newspapers following the uproar after 5th year medical student, Jodi Dixon’s piece in the British Medical Journal saw claims of numerous weak teens being forced into the sordid industry, whereas further investigations have shown a more positive outlook.

However, York notes that this occurrence is not irregular as unsupported claims of numbers related to the sex industry are often found within the media, and these can be misleading and often damaging.

Additionally, the piece offers “a great example of what can happen when people assume other people’s figures are correct and quote them, or an exaggerated version of them as fact.”

 DJB’s “story of data done badly

Flow chart of the incorrect figures regarding sex trafficking

Read the full story here.

Do you have any experience of data being misleading about the reality of the sex industry? Let us know on investigatestudentprostitution@gmail.com or comment below with your thoughts.

Student prostitution: funding a lifestyle

When confronted with the primary concern around student prostitutiondid you feel forced into the industry?” Louisa* replies firmly, “absolutely not”.

The idea of students turning to sex work often conjures up images of late-teens to twenty-something year olds struggling to get by during their education and as a last resort they turn unwillingly to a field of work that is judged and scrutinised for its dangers and controversial nature. But, Louisa isn’t your typical student working in prostitution.

Louisa studied BA Health & Social Sciences; however, she breaks the mould as being in her thirties makes Louisa a mature student. Although older than your average student, Louisa was still a student and throughout her time at university, she funded her lifestyle through working as an escort.

Louisa highlights “I could afford my studies through my previous career”. However, she admits that prostitution offered her more spare time, “less stress” and more money.

Now, although Louisa is not your typical student, she is not alone as she notes that “there are many other ‘mature’ [student] escorts doing so”.

Louisa, alongside many other student prostitutes in a similar position, is forgotten by the media. Why? Not only because of her age, but because many of these students’ work in the sex industry is a choice, and often one that funds a lifestyle.

She notes that the sex industry, “like any job it has good and bad points.” This is certainly a choice for Louisa, “I have completed my degree and don’t plan on working in that field at all, much preferring to escort for now.“ “Escorting is my profession for now, and hopefully for the next few years.”

Are students really in the sex trade?

Throughout this investigation, it has been uncovered that students are working in the sex trade – which extends further than just prostitution, to include lap dancing, amongst other areas. However, it appears that the number of students feeling pressured into the profession is much less than has been suggested.

Our recent survey in Birmingham found that out of 100 students asked, nearly a quarter knew of a student in the sex industry. Additionally, an investigation in 2009 showed, although varied across the UK, evidence of students turning to the sex trade for money. Westminster University estimated 3–4% of indebted students were earning money in the sex industry, whereas Leeds University Student Union estimated 60% of sex workers in Leeds were students.

But those seeking help for their decision to work in the trade shows little to no evidence. One25, the charity that reaches out to women trapped in sex work, say they “not aware of any students within our client group” and an investigation in 2009 found that out of the 236 institutions not one “reported having a policy on staff or student involvement in commercial sex and none suggested that they had any concerns in this area“.

So why are students choosing employment in the form of prostitution?

Our study of the student/prostitution community has offered insights into the real reasons behind the numbers of student in the sex trade. The focus on funding studies as a primary reason is misplaced, with the reality being students are choosing prostitution to fund a lifestyle.

Research has shown that although “overall the cost of living had gone up by more than 9.5%” on closer examination,  “the breakdown of items within the living cost index” showed that “not many of these areas would be of particular issue to the average student.” In particular, the report notes that “an average food shop had only risen by around 30p” and several household bills “although several not particularly relevant to students had only risen by around £3.00

Additionally, suggesting students are funding their education may be misleading as for the majority of students, they won’t start paying back their loans until they are earning a salary of over £15,000.

So how are students being forced into the industry? Well put simply, it appears they are not. Figures of students in prostitution and the sex trade are certainly difficult completely determine, but the reasons of those who are willing to come forward suggest that their job is a choice and a choice based on wanting more money in their pockets.

Louisa says “I decided to try it out as I really did not enjoy the stress, low pay and bad management I had experienced in a few jobs in my previous career.  I decided to turn escorting into my full time job when I was certain that I could earn a certain amount guaranteed.”

Not alone in this, student and part-time lap-dancer Rachel* saysIf I wanted to live on just my student loan I could have but I didn’t want to. I don’t believe anyone would be forced into it while they’re at uni.” Her choice was made on material needs. “I wanted to have nice things, I needed money for those nice things, I needed a job for the money so I lap danced. It’s as simple as that.

The Issues of prostitution

This investigation has addressed that the sex industry is one that brings controversy, but more importantly, dangers. However, this is a long standing issue to be tackled, not only for the sake of students but for all workers in the sex trade. Some see prostitution as degrading, violent and dangerous, whereas others see the industry as one allowing empowerment and pride in the profession. Whichever side you agree with, unless this industry, one of the oldest in the book, is completely wiped out and illegalised, we can only push for better regulations to protect those people who decide to work in this area.

Investigating Student Prostitution: the truths, myths and issues

Yes, there are students working in not only prostitution, but various areas of the sex trade. However, a sigh of relief may be made as the overriding reason found throughout this investigation is not students funding their education or because these students have been forced into the work. The truth is that the majority of these students have made a job choice that suits their own lifestyle choices. Like Rachel says, “It’s just a job.”

(*names changed to protect anonymity)

Are you a student who has funded a lifestyle rather their education within the sex trade? Let us know your experiences or your views on the investigation into student prostitution by emailing invesitgatestudentprostitution@gmail.com or by commenting below.

Empowering or degrading? The feminist view on prostitution

Torn between the empowerment of women in control of their sexuality and earning money for it and those that are seen as nothing more than victims of a male dominated society, the feminist view offers critical thinking on prostitution.

Emily Rose offers summaries and discussions on the varying feminist views on prostitution. The article suggests that Existentialist feminists see that “prostitution can be liberating and empowering to women and prostitutes are entrepreneurs”. However many see the negative side of the industry…

In response to About.com’s “Is Prostitution a Victimless Crime?”, they note that “What’s Recreational Sex for Some Men is Abuse for Many Women”.

Calling upon writer and anti-pornography activist, Andrea Dworkin, they expose the view on prostitution that it is not built on the empowerment of women but is a business of degrading women.

Andrea Dworkin made it her life’s work to focus on the sex trade and reveal it for what it is – not a free enterprise but a business built on the backs, the blood, and the debasement of women.”

She highlights what she sees as the truth about prostitution and “refutes the argument that a high-priced call girl charging $5,000 an evening is any more empowered and independent than a 13-year-old runaway beaten by her pimp.”

[F]rom the perspective of a woman in prostitution or a woman who has been in prostitution–the distinctions other people make between whether the event took place in the Plaza Hotel or somewhere more inelegant are not the distinctions that matter….The circumstances don’t mitigate or modify what prostitution is.”

Dworkin is not alone in her strong view on the reality of the sex industry. From University of Rhode Island, professor in women’s studies, Donna M is a leading researcher on the trafficking of women.

“There is no dignity in prostitution. Many of the acts of prostitution, including those that are photographed in the making of pornography, are intended to degrade, humiliate and express domination over women. They are acts of misogyny, not respect or affection, and have nothing to do with love or intimacy. Women don’t emerge from sexual exploitation into positions of power, respect or admiration. They remain powerless as individuals and an underclass as a group…..

Prostitution and trafficking are extreme forms of gender discrimination and exist as a result of the powerlessness of women as a class.”

These ideas suggest that at any age, prostitution is an industry built on the objectification of women and thrives on their lower position in society.

Are the numerous dangers and the evident degradation of women in the industry outweighed by those women that find empowerment in the industry?

Let us know your thoughts and experiences by commenting below or email us privately at investigatestudentprostituion@gmail.com.

Should we be putting a stop to student prostitution?

Writing for Yahoo Lifestyle, Catherine Maillard certainly thinks so.

Catherine writes that “on the point of being trivialised within the student community, it goes hand in hand with crisis and insecurity, but not just this: the internet and its wide access to different options contributes to the growth of the problem.”

However, she fails to note that there are students, and particularly females, involved in sex work that enjoy and feel empowered by their work.

Catherine touches on the idea that “prostitution can equally be a deliberate choice” but follows by suggesting that in the case of internet ads for such jobs, “it is nothing more than a trap”.

Empowering, dangerous or degrading?

It appears that very few people find themselves sat on the fence when it comes to prostitution, especially student prostitution.

Catherine calls upon a 19-year-old student, Stephanie who “gradually started to offer sexual favours to her social landlord” when she couldn’t pay off her rent.

There are certainly serious and obvious dangers apparent in the sex trade. Especially when such students are taking on roles that “do not have proper contracts” which may lead them into “ambiguous situations, …find[ing] themselves drawn into things they did not sign up for in the first place. “

The sex industry is one that society often wishes to sweep under the carpet and pretend isn’t happening but addressing the real problems and issues that are still occurring is a crucial step for improving one of the oldest professions in the books.

The very real dangers faced by prostitutes include rape, abuse and violent death… dangers that may be faced on a daily basis. In 2000, Melissa Farley (PhD) summarised in a fact sheet on human rights violations, specifically considering prostitution, that…

Prostitution is:

a) sexual harassment
b) rape
c) battering
d) verbal abuse
e) domestic violence
f) a racist practice
g) a violation of human rights
h) childhood sexual abuse
i) a consequence of male domination of women
j) a means of maintaining male domination of women
k) all of the above

So perhaps student prostitution or prostitution as a whole should be completely illegalised and stamped out?

But what about those women that rely on the income to survive, surely the answer is not to get rid of a trade that does offer some positives that are often neglected. Perhaps the real need for change is the attitude to the profession. If the sex trade was viewed as a  profession and treated with the same consideration, the case of violence and health dangers could be better dealt with. If formal laws and regulations became commonplace within the industry that has been demonised with a seedy reputation, the people employed within it would be safer, which is ultimately one of the root problems within the industry.

If the women, and men, in the industry were properly protected perhaps the room for those  empowered by their choice of work would leave more approval for the sex trade.

So, perhaps we shouldn’t be asking whether we should we be putting a stop to student prostitution, or prostitution as whole, but asking how the industry can be improved to care for the workers.

Let us know your thoughts and experiences by commenting below or email us privately at investigatestudentprostituion@gmail.com.

Commercial sex in higher education; what are the rules?

Students in the sex trade are not a new phenomenon; however universities are yet to catch up to this.

In 2009, an investigation by Linda Cusick and Susan Paton of the University of the West of Scotland and Ron Roberts on Kingston University sought out to uncover “higher and further education institutions’ policies… relate[d] to the interactions of their staff and students with the sex industry.”

The investigation highlighted the figures of students selling sex were extremely varied with research by Westminster University estimating 3–4% of indebted students were earning money in the sex industry, whereas  through gathering information from sex worker support services, Leeds University Student Union estimated 60% of sex workers in Leeds were students.

It seems the student attitude towards the sex trade as a form of employment is not one of inconceivability as from a sample undergraduates, it was noted that 10% “knew students who are involved in sex work, which was defined as prostitution, escorting, lap dancing or stripping”. Alongside this, a recent survey of over 300 students “found 21% would be willing to undertake some form of sex work to pay for their education”.

However, of the 326 institutions written to 72% responded and out of these 236, not one  “reported having a policy on staff or student involvement in commercial sex and none suggested that they had any concerns in this area“. The only form of policy came through an implied link between their general policies and their “applicability to staff/student involvement in commercial sex.”

One such higher education institution in England commented

“[S]hould we become aware of staff or student involvement in commercial sex we would be primarily concerned with understanding the circumstances of the individual(s) involved and in taking a supportive rather than a punitive approach in the first instance.”

The figures suggest that students are resorting to work in the sex trade to fund their studies; however the notion that they are forced appears misplaced with numerous students acknowledging the industry and even suggesting it could be a possible job choice. In the case of students involved in sex work, the numbers are there, however the support and guidance from the institutions is certainly lacking in response to this.

Students are working in the sex trade but it appears the universities aren’t ready to specifically address this yet.

What are you experiences of universities dealing with students in the sex industry? Let us know by commenting below or email us privately at investigatestudentprostitution@gmail.com.

Students in the sex trade; is it as negative as it seems?

Laura of the English Collective of Prostitutes pointed out,

Ever since grants were done away with and loans introduced, we have been contacted by increasing numbers of students considering or involved in sex work.  Considering that it is common for a student to be saddled with a debt of £30,000 + at the end of their course this is no surprise.  Jobs in shops and pubs that students usually take up to cover living costs are increasingly scarce and low paid.”

So with other routes being hard to find or offering little money in comparison, the sex trade has certainly become more appealing to students in hard financial times.

Students are highlighting the great benefits of their work, as student ‘Rachel’ in our previous post noted

“I wanted to have nice things, I needed money for those nice things, I needed a job for the money so I lap danced. It’s as simple as that.”

She’s not the only one that sees her job choice as a positive one. Speaking to The Guardian, London university student, Joy Nilsson spoke of her passion for her work.

I don’t want to owe £50,000 when I graduate, and I know other women feel the same. I love my job and I’m very proud of what I do – it fits perfectly with my studying, it’s very flexible and you get your money up front. What other jobs give you that kind of freedom?”

Nilsson certainly doesn’t sound forced into this path.

The growth of lap dancing

Although it is apparent that students are resorting to the sex trade, the numbers of those working in prostitution appears less significant than other areas of the industry. One particular area showing this is lap-dancing as it is becoming a much more common occurrence.

A study of over 200 lap-dancers carried out by Leeds University found that

one in three of those surveyed were working to fund education. The majority of these were younger women, with 14% working to fund undergraduate study; 6% were on postgraduate courses and 4% in further education.”

So students are turning to jobs that offer flexible hours, high rate of pay and often great satisfaction. Is that really so negative?

The view from inside the industry

Commenting on The Guardian’s story, reader “c243dvx” shared her experiences

“I graduated from a prestigious university with a good degree some years ago, and CHOSE to work as a striptease artist thereafter.”

Although no longer a student, the reader suggests that the real negative issue here is not students in the industry but the operation of the sex trade.

I enjoy my job and have never felt degraded, which cannot be said of the many other industries I have worked in (law, media, finance to name a few). The woman who runs the club I work at is fair and supportive, and should be congratulated for creating such a nurturing working environment. I do understand, however, that many clubs are not run in such a commendable way, and I believe we should work to change the way they are operated.”

A job in any field will have positives and negatives, but perhaps for the sex trade the positives are being ignored. If students consent to this work then there should be no problem with their choice. The real issues that need addressing are those clubs and sections of the industry that do not offer the same safe environment for not only students, but any of their workers.

The number of students in the sex trade is difficult to determine with the social and moral judgement that still plagues the industry making it harder for the workers to speak out about it. However, the numbers should not be the main focus. Students and non-students are not numbers but people and so the extent of safety and support available for these workers should be under judgement, not their choices.

What are your experiences of the support on offer for workers in the sex trade? How safe is the industry and where does it need improvements? Let us know your experiences of the industry by commenting below or email us privately on investigatestudentprostitution@gmail.com.

One25 unaware of students in prostitution

The charity are ‘not aware of any students within our client group‘, notes Kate Golten of One25.

This is a stark opposite to the claims of growing prostitution within the student community in the UK as recent media coverage has suggested.

Golten stated that to date she and her colleagues had not experienced students working in the sex industry, although highlighting that One25 would offer help to students working in the sex industry if they were ‘women who were involved in street sex work, or at risk of being involved in street sex work‘.

However, One25 are ‘not aware of what is available to students working in the sex industry as this is not [their] client group‘.

One25, the charity that reaches out to women trapped in sex work, helps to support them as they break away from the industry and ‘step away from the streets‘. Their mission is to help them as they take the brave steps towards rebuilding a life away from the violence, poverty and addiction associated with the sex trade.

The women often make first contact with One25 through meeting us during outreach. Our van goes out 5 nights per week and provides nutritious food, hot drinks and a chance to talk and get advice in a safe space.

The video below gives an insight into how these GSK Impact Awards 2010 winners are earning that title.

These findings suggest that certainly for Bristol the case of students in the sex trade is not as apparent as has been speculated. However, as Golten suggests, One25 do not consider students part of their ‘client group‘, does this mean there is not a high case of student prostitutes or rather that they may not know where to seek help?

Let us know your experiences of such charities. Are there enough routes for students to seek help for working in the sex trade or are such charities not necessarily called for due to the low, or non-existent numbers of student prostitutes? Comment below or email us at investigatestudentprostitution@gmail.com.

Are students really ‘forced’ into prostitution?

Are students really forced into prostitution? Stephen Paterson doesn’t think they are.

Running an interesting blog around issues related to prostitution, Paterson is close to the heart of the matter. He commented

“I don’t quite see why students are ‘forced’ into the sex trade when the banks fall over themselves to offer student loans. Unlike some people, who undoubtedly are forced into the trade through circumstance, it seems that students in general have a clear choice – whether to accept the level of debt that their studies incur and pay it off later, or instead finance their way in whole or in part through working whilst studying, at which point sex work would be one of the options.”

The Student Loans Company supply a great deal of funding to students in higher education, with the figures for 2010/2011 showing that 948,600 applicants were awarded support in that academic year which totalled over 7 million pounds.  In comparison to the academic year of 2009/2010 these sums showed an increase of 3% of applicants securing support and an increase of 6% of the amount of money awarded.

However, with the harsh economic times upon us, is this 6% rise enough?

The University of Southampton offers an insight into the real costs of living for a student in these economic struggles.

Meanwhile at the University of Birmingham the overall suggested costs of living rank in at:

Estimated living costs 2007/8 UG39 weeks(£) PG51 weeks(£)
Accommodation(average cost for self-catering halls) 3,170 4,530
Meals 1,500 1,960
Books and stationery 310 310
Clothes(including provision of warm clothing and footwear) 310 410
Local transport (buses free if you are in halls with Uni Link ) 390 510
Other general living expenses(eg. photocopying & printing, laundry, phone calls, consumables, entertainment, sports, cooking equipment etc) 1,210 1,580
Total 6,890 9,300

Although fees and loans are not required to be paid back immediately and the system in place allows for small sums to repaid once earning over £15,000 (although this is set to change after the rise in fees), the cost of living is certainly high for those new students who may never have experienced such a lifestyle before.

So perhaps students are not being forced to prostitute themselves for their fees but rather their lifestyle and the high costs of living. Do we therefore need to see changes to the loans in consideration of these hard economic times and the costs of a comfortable living style? Or do students need to realise these high costs and adjust their lifestyle accordingly?

Let us know your experiences of whether students are really ‘forced’ into prostitution by commenting below or alternatively email us at investigatestudentprostitution@gmail.com.

The real problems behind student prostitution

So what are the real problems here? Prostitution, or the exchanging of money for sex, is not illegal in the UK and most universities do not have policies related to student prostitution, even though it may be more common than once expected.

If prostitution is a rife as is being suggested in the press, surely universities should be implicating rules and support for those students considering or resorting to becoming one of the suggested growing numbers of prostitutes working for their fees. Prostitution is a dangerous business to be involved in, and although it may offer high pay for work that requires few skills, students must especially be cautious. This path could damage not only career prospects and professional reputation but personal health and well-being.

BBC have reported on Swansea University as they begin conducting research into the concerns around students turning to prostitution in order to find real evidence and not rely on the ‘anecdotal evidence’ currently available. NUS Wales’ women’s officer, Stephanie Lloyd,

“We don’t have figures for exactly how many students are sex workers but the good thing is that we’re finally going to get hard evidence of the scale of it.

“We have some rough ideas of what is needed, such as information around sexual health provision. And it may be that it takes a form of e-health like websites that give people the right support and help. As for these people to go to speak directly to someone is often difficult.”

There are many issues here but firstly, if student prostitution is becoming a growing trend then the lack of support needs to be quickly changed so that students are aware of the real risks involved.

However, perhaps the real issue is that student fees are so high and job opportunities are so few that the students feel they have no way out other than to sell their body for their education? There seems little hope for the near future too with the implication of even higher tuition fees. Could we be set to see a rise in student prostitution?

Our investigation will see us talking to students, universities and organisations to uncover whether the shocking statistics and anecdotal evidence presented is really transpiring across the UK.

What do you believe the real issues are with this situation? Are you a student with insights to real student prostitution?  Let us know your thoughts by commenting or email us privately at investigatestudentprostitution@gmail.com. 

Where do the moral objections to sex work end?

In 2007, a study of 130 undergraduates in the South of England highlighted that 10% of these knew of students engaged in sex work, which was defined as “prostitution, escorting, lap dancing or stripping”. The study also drew direct links between the students’ participation in sex work and financial issues.

Student prostitution is happening and it seems that money is the main motive. However, there are a whole host of that still problems remain unclear. Our investigation will be looking into whether this really is a growing trend and if so, where the support is for students and what can be done to prevent students from feeling they have to turn to their last resort of the sex trade. Why are people really concerned with the uncovering of student prostitution?

Posting on Doctors Forum ‘Doc2Doc’, 23-year-old medical student ‘Deb_d’ questions

“Almost all the posters in this thread are of the view [that student prostitution] is not acceptable, but I ask if two adults engage in intercourse involving exchange of money of their own volition then why should it concern the rest of us? How is it any different from employing the services of a doctor, who is selling his intelligence?”

The issue of prostitution as a trade, not only considering the students involved, is frowned upon in society due to moral and cultural reasons. ‘Deb_d’ points out,

“If prostitution didn’t cause cultural or moral outrage then why would the media report it? Students working in other jobs doesn’t become news”.

But where do we draw the line on what’s deemed acceptable? Student prostitution has caused an outrage even though it’s noted as one of the oldest professions in the world, perhaps due to its affiliation with the extortionate fees forcing students into a position where they feel they have to sell themselves to survive their time at university.

However, do the moral objections apply to the part of the trade that can be done from the comfort and safety of your own home without any physical contact? Although virtual,  phone sex is trade of a sexually explicit nature, although it appears to be invisible in the scandal of student prostitution.

Students and Phone Sex

A recent Channel 4 documentary “My Phone Sex Secrets” uncovered the forgotten aspect of the sex trade that is now booming in today’s economic climate thanks to the good pay for minimal and generally safe work. 18-year-old student, Rosa, shared the experience of her first steps into this field and candidly exposed what it really entails. The initial embarrassment soon wore off at the realisation of the money it can offer. The possibility of earning over £500 a week or even £400 for one single call was enough to tempt this student. Rosa believes it “will be a very good and very fun way for me to earn money”.

However, it’s certainly not all fun and games. Rosa resorted to this unconventional employment after searching hopelessly for ‘socially acceptable’ jobs to no avail. With the worst recession since the war and the sky-high university fees, thousands of students are finding themselves in such difficult situations. These economic struggles are calling for drastic measures in which student prostitution and sex work seems to be the only hope.

Student’s Views on Students in the Sex Trade 

22-year-old Birmingham City University Student, Carlie-Ann spoke of how she thought the show was “great” and thought that she could easily take on the job as “it looked such an easy way to make money.

“However when it started to show how it affected some people’s love and personal lives I quickly changed my mind.”

This certainly raises the issues that students involved in the sex trade may be facing much more than money problems if they follow this route, it can impact them physically, mentally and their relationships with the people around them.

Personally, Carlie doesn’t “know anyone involved in student prostitution” and is one of the many that finds these claims of ‘rife’ student prostitution to be “blown out of proportion“.

Although she points out “I don’t think we have a problem at BCU” with student prostitution, she notes that “I think the uni need to help people a lot more with finding student jobs. They are happy to help you find the career you’ll get after uni, but not very helpful with what’s happening now“.

The condemnation of the sex trade is hiding the real problem that needs to be addressed. The lack of support that students are receiving both financially and emotionally is leading them to such extreme measures that they may not be able to cope with. Although the true extent of students in the sex trade is not yet known, it is clear that there are students resorting to selling themselves and that there is a failure in the system to help these students when they need it most.

Do you think that universities should have a responsibility to help their students find work so they don’t have to face turning to the sex trade? Let us know your opinions on the investigation by commenting below or email us privately at investigatestudentprostitution@gmail.com.