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.

Selling your body to get educated.

For a large percentage of the students in the UK the prospect of university is a scary one. The idea of having more debt than you could ever have imagined is terrifying. For those students that take the leap and begin the road towards a degree, they are often forced to take drastic action if they want to survive for three years away from home.

Rachel* was one of those students. She attended university for almost a year before she got into financial difficulty. “My Mom just wasn’t in the position to help. I had to do something if I wanted to carry on living the way I wanted.” After extending her overdraft as far as she was allowed she finally realised she needed a job. “I tried to work in a coffee shop but I earn nothing and had to put up with so many idiots.” It was at this point that she turned to a friend who had discussed her weekend job at a lap dancing club. “She always told me I’d be good at it but I suppose you don’t consider it until you need to, do you?”

Within no time Rachel was in the club, meeting the other girls and getting a feel for her surroundings. “Its sleazy at first. Its all the things you can imagine at first but after a few nights you get used to it and its nothing. Its just work.”

“I’ve often been propositioned. It’d be really easy to turn to prostitution and if you were desperate I could see why you would.”

The clientele are almost always old enough to be Rachel’s father and the club isn’t the most sophisticated of establishments but to Rachel it is very clear that this is just a job. When asked when she’ll stop she is extremely undecided. “I don’t know, I suppose at the end of university, when I have a proper job.”

When I pointed out to her that this “proper job” will almost definitely pay her less than her current profession she shrugs her shoulders “I can’t be lap dancing forever, I’ll have to stop one day.”

When asked about students being forced into the sex trade Rachel is particularly sceptical. “I don’t think people can be forced into it. I wasn’t forced into anything. If 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.”

 

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.