Extremely worrying new information has come to light in the on-going tuition fees furore, as National Union of Students women’s officer Estelle Hart revealed that students are turning to prostitution and lap dancing to make ends meet. Speaking on the Breakfast programme of BBC Radio 5 Live, Hart blamed the turn to “dangerous, unregulated work” directly on the fact that “student support has been massively cut.”
The NUS stressed that concrete evidence was not available to back up their claims, but they explained that sufficient ‘anecdotal evidence’ existed to make them quite confident that the problem was rising rapidly. Hart revealed during the interview that she estimated 20% of lap dance club workers are now students.
Scientific research seems to support Hart’s disturbing claims. A study published last year by the University of Kingston showed that the percentage of students who knew somebody who had worked in the sex industry to fund their education had leapt from 3% to 25% over the past 10 years.
Calls For Help
Further evidence of the problem has been provided by the helpline for the English Collective of Prostitutes. The organisation told the BBC news website it had seen calls from students working in the sex industry double in the past year alone, suggesting that the problem may be even greater than the cautious estimates provided by the NUS.
Driven By Tuition Fees
Most worrying of all, both Hart and the English Collective of Prostitutes stressed that the problem islikely to increase significantly as a result of the new £9000 tuition fees coming into force next year. Interviewed by the BBC, Sarah Walker, on behalf of the Collective, even went so far as to directly blame the government, claiming that politicians “know the cuts they’re making are driving women into things like sex work…so we would hold the government responsible for that”.
Prostitution and escorting are often glamorised by television and film portrayals, such as the character of Izzy in Grey’s Anatomy, who pays her way through medical school by posing in her underwear for men’s magazines. Anecdotal evidence from a wide variety of informants with first-hand experience suggests that the reality is far more seedy, dangerous and demoralising than students expect. Very sadly, it is often made difficult for young women to leave such a world behind once they have become desperate enough to venture in in the first place.
What Can Be Done?
It is desperately important that more help is made available to support financially vulnerable students under the new system to prevent this swiftly rising problem from becoming an epidemic. In addition to the bursary and funding support that is urgently needed to help students from disadvantaged areas going on to university, it is also extremely important that education programs should be implemented to properly inform students about the extent of the dangers associated with working in the sex industry.
This new threat rearing its ugly head points towards yet another tragic consequence of the coalition government’s haphazard tuition fees reform. Not only might we be heading for a new two-tier society in which rich and poor are once again separated by education, but also perhaps for one in which sexism and gender bias are cemented by a marked divide in the way students feel forced to pay for that education.