Confronted by mounting financial pressure, students across the UK are increasingly turning to the sex industry for extra cash.
Recent research carried out by Professor Ron Roberts at Kingston University found that the number of students taking up work in the erotic sector has doubled in the last year.
6% of undergraduates and postgraduates are now resorting to lap dancing, pole dancing, escorting and prostitution.
A similar study conducted in 2010, also led by Professor Roberts, showed that 25% of students know someone who has worked in the sex industry, compared to 3% in 1990.
The study also revealed that 16% of students would consider working in the sex industry.
Sarah Walker from the English Collective of Prostitutes, a sex industry helpline based in London, said that the organisation has received an unprecedented number of calls from students in the last year.
She believes that the rise can be attributed to the significant financial burden borne by today’s students.
“They [ministers] know that the cuts they’re making are driving women into things like sex work. It’s a survival strategy so we would hold the government responsible for that”.
Many argue that students who sell their bodies are at risk of mental and physical harm.
Estelle Hart, National Union of Students Women’s Officer for 2011-12, described the sex industry as “dangerous and unregulated” in a BBC Radio 5 Live interview last year.
“In an economic climate where there are very few jobs, where student support has been massively cut, people are taking more work in the informal economy, such as sex work”.
Concerns have arisen that university welfare officers are unaware of the rising sexual exploitation of debt-laden students.
Dr. Tracey Sagar of Swansea University, who runs a three-year scheme supporting student sex workers in Wales, believes the subject needs more publicity.
“Universities are not dealing with this issue. It is not on the radar of welfare or support organisations within education”.
Similarly, Professor Roberts argued that universities are “burying their heads in the sand”.
The University of Nottingham website offers advice about sex and relationships on its HealthyU section, emphasising the importance of “being able to choose to have sex or not to have sex”.
Clearly, this choice is being denied to those who see no other option but to enter the informal economy.
19-year-old Nottingham medical student Amy Cunliffe suggested that the prevalence of sex work may be higher among those studying longer degree courses.
“I have heard that 10% of medics at Nottingham know another medic who has turned to the sex industry. I think it’s because medicine is a five year degree”.
Senior News Reporter