WHEN students are struggling to make ends meet they traditionally pull pints in a pub to earn some extra pocket money. Donna Asutaits’s choice of part-time job was much less conventional but far more lucrative.
She turned to prostitution while studying for her degree, working as a high-class call girl and earning up to £1,000 a night. Her earnings enabled her to enjoy a lifestyle that would be beyond the reach of ordinary students. Her fl at in London’s fashionable Knightsbridge was awash with cash and jewellery when police carried out raids.
Asutaits is beginning a 16-month jail term for later evading tax on earnings of £300,000 in just two years.
Yesterday the family of the former Catholic school pupil, whose income as an escort girl later helped fund her masters degree course too, was coming to terms with her double life.
Her tale has echoes of the story of Belle de Jour, the memoirs of Dr Brooke Magnanti who worked as an upmarket call girl while studying, although there is no suggestion that Dr Magnanti evaded paying tax.
In a middle-class district of Coventry Asutaits’s parents Stan and Susan refused to answer the door of their smart four-bedroom detached property, which is festooned with hanging flower baskets.
The couple, who are in their 50s, discovered their daughter’s secret only when police began an investigation into her affairs. One former neighbour said that he was stunned to learn of Donna’s seamy secret, describing her as a “demure” girl and saying that he believed she had a respectable, well-paid job in the capital. One cover she used was that she was a racehorse consultant who moved in high-society circles.
However, it emerged that the “self employed escort”, who owed £120,000 in income tax, joined the sex industry when she was a penniless student.
Typically she earned £3,000 a week selling her body to wealthy businessmen in London, who showered her with expensive gifts.
SOUTHWARK Crown Court heard that 29-year-old Asutaits, who worked from her £360,000 fl at, had become a hooker to fund a degree course and continued to work as an escort for a decade.
The former pupil of The Cardinal Wiseman School in Coventry was said by her lawyer to have subsequently dropped out of her masters degree course, deeply embarrassed by the shame she has caused to her family.
Her case highlights the plight of growing numbers of students who are joining the sex industry to help pay tuition fees.
Sarah Walker of the English Collective Of Prostitutes, an organisation which represents the workers in this trade, says: “There is definitely a growing number of students contacting us who are involved in, or considering, sex work. It’s risen dramatically in the past year following the big increase in fees.”
That follows a steady increase during the past decade and she adds: “Students are facing debts of upwards of £30,000 and there’s more competition for traditional part-time work in pubs or shops.
“In the current economic climate it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that students are turning to sex work. It’s a survival strategy and we are working to remove the stigma.
“The hours are often more flexible and students often fi t sex work around their studies or sitting exams.”
Sarah insists that cases of students being able to earn £1,000 a night by moonlighting as a prostitute are rare.
“That’s not the norm,” she says.
“The vast majority won’t be earning that kind of money but obviously students can earn more money working in lap dancing and strip clubs, for phone sex lines and in escorting or massage parlours, than by stacking shelves.”
There are also the overheads to consider, she says. In lap dancing clubs it’s common for the girls to rent floor space, pay commission to the owners and provide their own costumes.
It has been reported that some students are turning to the sex industry seeking thrills. Dr Teela Sanders of Leeds University, who carried out a nationwide survey of lap dancers, says: “Students see it as a bit of a night out really and they earn a bit of money as well.
“They like the lifestyle. It’s a party atmosphere, a lot of compliments and a nice environment to work in. In a way you’re out with your girlfriends, getting bought champagne all night.
There’s an attraction in doing something that’s a little bit naughty that most people don’t agree with.”
A third of women interviewed were using lapdancing to fund new forms of education or training, while one in four had a degree.
Unemployed new graduates, mainly with arts degrees, were also dancing because they could not find other jobs.
It’s claimed that the typical student now faces an annual shortfall of £8,000 a year because of the rising cost of further education and most students cite financial motives for becoming involved in the sex industry.
Lap dancers earn an average of £48,000 a year and one 20-year-old student says: “I can earn anything from £60 to £800 in a night and can fit in my work around my studies.
“I can do four or five shifts a week in the holidays, or none for a few weeks if I’m busy with course work. I’d never work a night if I had a lecture the morning after.
“In the past I worked as a waitress but that only paid £400 per month, so how could I afford to live without getting into debt? But I’d never work as an escort. There’s no need to go down that road with the amount of money you can earn by doing this.”
In another study more than a quarter of students at a London university said they knew of a fellow student who had worked in the sex industry.
They listed pole or lap dancing as the most popular type of work, followed by stripping, but prostitution was the next most common.
The owner of one massage parlour in London says: “In my day people went to university in order to avoid this kind of life but now they lead this kind of life in order to go to university.”
Kelley Temple, women’s officer for the National Union Of Students, says that there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that students are turning to such work to help them pay their bills and claims: “ Some strip clubs are quite openly making an effort to recruit students.
“Traditionally students would have done part-time work or relied on support from family but both these avenues are scarcer these days. Sex work does appear to be increasing, although it’s impossible to say on what scale. It does need investigating because while it can be a way of making money there is not enough protection against exploitation.”
It is claimed that many hard-up students will still be paying off their loans when they are well into their 50s.
One final-year medical student, who estimates she will leave university with debts of about £40,000, says: “No one should be surprised that students are paying their way by becoming prostitutes. Attitudes to sex are more liberal now and it’s expensive to go to university.
“Working in a bar for a few nights a week for the minimum wage barely scratches the surface.”
THE REAL BELLE DE JOUR
DR BROOKE MAGNANTI became a lady of the night to help fund her PhD course. Her memoirs were turned into the hit television series Secret Diary Of A Call Girl, starring Billie Piper.
Writing under the pen name Belle de Jour to describe the encounters she had while a high-class call girl, the 36-year-old eventually revealed her identity three years ago.
There had been rumours that Belle was an elaborate hoax. Dr Magnanti and the television programme series her books spawned have also been criticised for making the world’s oldest profession appear glamorous.
Dr Magnanti, a research scientist in the field of child health, had managed to keep her double life a secret from colleagues and family.
She worked as a prostitute in London for 14 months and claimed she found it “so much more enjoyable” than her shifts in another part-time job as a computer programmer. Her other life was as an informatics, epidemiology and forensic science student at the University of Sheffield.
She has also said: “Working as an escort was pretty straightforward. I started it after submitting my PhD. Once you’ve got over the idea that it might be immoral, it becomes one of the many options to earn money.
“I’ve had bad jobs, such as scrubbing toilets, that other people would have more approval for but I’ve thought were far more offensive.”
Dr Magnanti, who grew up in Florida but now lives in the Highlands of Scotland, claims that she earned £300 a night working as a hooker.
Her first two books became bestsellers and, although she continues to write about sex, recently she has married and worked promoting whisky.