Findings from the Student Sex Work Project at Swansea University confirms the experience of the English Collective of Prostitutes that most students go into sex work to cover living expenses (two-thirds) and pay off debts (45%). One sex worker in the survey described sex work as an alternative to ten-hour shifts waiting tables on top of studying; a number said they turned to sex work to clear debts.
Laura Watson, English Collective of Prostitutes commented:
“We have seen a significant increase in students going into prostitution as tuition fees have increased. Some women in our group are working to pay off debts of £30,000 plus. Also, jobs in shops and pubs, that students would traditionally have taken, have become increasingly scarce and low paid. In a recent assessment of calls to our helpline we found that calls from students had gone up by a third.”
Where our experience differs from the survey is in the finding that more male students have gone into sex work than female. Overall nationally we find this hard to believe. It may be that women sex workers are under greater pressure “to keep their occupations secret . . . because of social stigma and fears of being judged by family and friends” and are less likely to be public in all kinds of situations, including by responding to surveys.
Our Rights Sheet which provides information on occupational safety and rights is circulating widely among student networks. As this survey shows, most sex workers are working for themselves, but under the current laws many students are being saddled with a criminal record (often for life), which prevents them leaving prostitution and applying for other jobs.
Sex workers everywhere are pressing for the decriminalisation of sex work as introduced in 2003 in New Zealand on grounds of health and safety. We would ask for this to be added to the survey recommendations and for an end to fees, cuts and for a living wage for students and all workers.
The key findings are the following:
Almost 5% of the students have ever engaged in a commercial sexual activity.
One in five students has ever considered such engagement.
Male students are more likely to ever have engaged in a commercial sexual activity as compared to female students.
Students who engage in sex work do this on an irregular basis and the money that is made from it is likely to be low, mostly spent on daily living expenses.
Those who perform direct sex work are doing the work on a more regular basis and generate a higher income as compared to those who perform indirect sex work.
Student sex workers’ motivations are centred around the need for generating money in a flexible way that is combinable with university studies but a substantial group of student sex workers are also driven by anticipated pleasure.
About one in four student sex workers do not always feel safe while working, and this is more so for those involved in direct sex work.
Student sex workers fear stigmatisation and the most important negative aspect of undertaking sex work is the need to keep engagement in the industry a secret.
A substantial group of student sex workers has contacted support services in relation to their work and a smaller group expresses the need for more support; especially online services would be welcome.