Students and the sex industry

OVER the past few years, the number of students who find themselves working in the sex industry during their years at university has grown significantly. This is, in part, due to the pressures of higher tuition fees and living costs. Many students aren’t receiving large enough loans to cover their rent for the academic year and with jobs becoming harder to find, it’s easy to see why desperate measures are sometimes taken by students to see themselves through education.

Working in the sex industry primarily means being involved in work such as escorting, using webcams and phone sex, all of which are very highly paid and flexible to the hours that suit them. Escorting can pay up to £130 an hour and webcam or phone sex in the region of £1 a minute.

Looking at these rates, perhaps it’s less surprising that studies show that around 25% of students know another student working in the industry. However, do those working in the industry really know the dangers?

Escorting appears to have the most obvious risks as it mostly involves women going out to meet total strangers, allowing their clients to interact with them on a very intimate level.

Webcam and phone sex are a little different, however, as the girls work in a different location to their clients, although there are still some dangers with being involved in this kind of work. To advertise their services online, they have to provide a public profile with information on themselves in order to entice men into buying into the process. Some of the information they provide includes their location, physical description and photographs, so it can be easy for the women to be recognised by their clients if they’re in the local area.

I spoke to an ex-Aber student about her reasons for going into the industry, and her experiences as a part of it. She spoke about being recognised: “I’ve had local people approach me while I’ve been on nights out, asking if it’s me, or the guys who I have met, and performed for coming up to me and talking to me. So far it’s always been pleasant, but it could easily be a more dangerous situation. I’ve heard about girls who get recognised out and blackmailed for sex by drunken men who see them as easy targets.”

“It works a lot like Facebook. You don’t have to include your face in the photographs, but how many people do we recognise in the street because of seeing their profiles on Facebook? It’s exactly the same situation here, my profile is out there for everyone in the world to see and I know my profile gets a lot of views a day, so sometimes I do get a little uncomfortable when I see men staring at me in bars, because you have to wonder, is that where they know me from?”

As well as being recognised, there are other downsides to the job. “I’ve had people trying to enquire about my services, asking for reduced prices. It is really insulting, because at the end of the day, this is my body. It does make you feel quite cheap, especially when they start to talk to you with little respect, demanding things and assuming you’ll do things you aren’t comfortable with if they throw a little extra money at you.”

“I met one guy when I was working in Manchester, he’d turned up late to a meeting, and when he had arrived he couldn’t even pay me half! He was pretending to look for money in his belongings, and asking if he could do a card transaction on the phone, he was obviously looking for something gratis. I was really scared to just ask him to leave, but I had to – another example of a situation that could have easily turned ugly. I know in some of the bigger cities it’s quite common for guys to try and pay with bogus cheques, and the girls accepting them despite knowing this, because they’re working in such a dodgy area, they’re scared of what could happen to them if they try and refuse them.”

Whilst the idea of going into the sex industry during time at university is getting more popular, is the pay worth the danger these young people are putting themselves into?

The Bigger picture

In Wales, the issue of young sex workers has been taken seriously, with the Big Lottery funding ‘The Student Sex Work Project’, a website providing advice on health and safety, whilst having an anonymous space for people to share their experiences. This is part of an effort which began in Swansea University to discover the extent and scope of the issue and the impact it’s having on students.

What does the law say about the sex industry?

  • Paying for sex is not illegal (with people over 18)
  • However, there has been widespread government debate since around 2004 about how to help people get out of the sex trade, asking whether it would be best to ban prostitution altogether or to legalise some forms of brothels that would be monitored. Now, the focus is on making it more difficult for people to pay for sex, or to control others for paid sex, including trafficking.
  • ‘Kerb crawling’ is illegal.
  • Trafficking people for sexual purposes is also illegal.
  • Some statistics claim that between 70-97% of prostitutes have been trafficked into the UK.
  • Soliciting (asking for sex) and pimping, are both illegal.
  • Brothels (aka more than one person in a premise being paid for sex) are illegal. However, one person working on their own is not classed as a brothel.
  • Some countries like Australia and New Zealand have in some ways helped legalise brothels so that certain health and safety standards are put in place, like limits on the number of rooms and forcing owners to apply for a licence.