One in ten students know someone who works in sex trade to pay for university fees, a survey has found.
The Billie Piper drama Secret Diary of a Call Girl, in which the dangers are sidelined and she “oozes glamour and sophistication” may have added to the rise, a medical journal claims.
A tenth of trainee doctors now claim to know someone who is selling their body because of increased living costs and rising tuition fees.
This is two and a half times the number ten years ago when just four percent was aware of a peer placing themselves in the sex industry.
The figure rose to six percent in 2006 and now stands at just under ten per cent, reports an editorial in the Student BMJ.
Author Jodi Dixon, a final year medical student at the University of Birmingham, suggests it is no coincidence the boom coincides with soaring tuition fees.
She says it is due to the rising costs of both tuition and living that students are finding themselves in huge amounts of debt.
A survey published in 2010 found more than a quarter of 315 undergraduates at a London university knew of a student who had worked in the sex industry.
They listed pole or lap dancing as the most popular type of sex work, followed by stripping, but prostitution was the next most common.
About ten percent knew of someone who had worked as a prostitute or escort, and when asked why they thought students undertook sex work, 93% gave the need for money as the main reason for doing so.
Ms Dixon, 24, says the average student today will graduate with a debt of about £25,000 but levels are higher for medical students, who generally study for another two to three years, with more intense working hours and less time for paid employment.
When the government’s plans go ahead to allow universities to charge fees of up to £9,000 per year, the British Medical Association estimates medical students’ debts could increase to almost £70.000.
Ms Dixon said: “With escalating debts, students in the United Kingdom may view prostitution as an easy way to get rich quick.
“This view could be fuelled by recent coverage of prostitution in the media – for example, the UK television dramatisation of the popular book Secret Diary of a Call Girl, starring Billie Piper.
“The television series portrays the life of Belle de Jour, a high class London call girl. Working for an escort agency, Belle is paid hundreds of pounds an hour to attend classy parties and travel abroad on luxurious holidays.
“She is also paid to have sex with men, and the show makes prostitution seem alluring, because Belle seems to enjoy her job. Danger is never an issue and she oozes glamour and sophistication.”
The book was based on the real life experiences of its author Brooke Magnanti, now a research scientist. While studying for her PhD in informatics, epidemiology, and forensic science at the University of Sheffield, Magnanti worked as a high class call girl for a London escort agency.
The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) has noticed an increase in the number of calls from students considering sex work.
It says it does have medical students as part of its network, and has received a rising number of calls from students in general considering sex work.
Medical schools do not believe prostitution among students is widespread. They have no specific rule on this matter but do suggest medical students act within the General Medical Council’s guidance for medical practice, ‘Duties of a doctor’.
But this does not necessarily state a doctor cannot be a prostitute. Furthermore, no case has been recorded in which a patient’s health has suffered because a doctor also worked in this trade.
Ms Dixon adds because there is no official guidance on the issue, there is no clear answer for students. What is worrying, she writes, is when students think “they have no choice but to resort to prostitution” and questions whether the “hike in fees” will lead to an increase in students entering the sex trade.
She said: “For students to think they have no choice but to resort to prostitution is unacceptable. With tuition fees rising from September 2013, we are yet to discover whether the hike in fees will lead to an increase in students turning to prostitution.
“Speaking to the BBC World Service, a female owner of a massage parlour from Leeds said, ‘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.'”
Today (Tuesday), Ms Dixon said she had never come across a student who had been tempted into the sex industry but fears it will become even more prevalent in the future.
She said: “I have worked in bars for £5.50 an hour. If your studies are taking from eight in the morning to eight at night, as is often the case at medical school, it is easy to see how some girls are tempted. It is a way of making a large amount of money in a short period of time.
“We don’t get any advice about seeking part time work at college. And it would be difficult for anyone to bring up the subject of prostitution, becuase that could almost be seen as advertising it!”