With the soaring rent fees both in halls of residence and private accomodation, it’s almost no wonder that so many are turning to the lucrative sex business. Save The Student, a money advice website, found that one in ten students were using their bodies as a means of making money, including cam-work, sex work, being a sugar baby and selling pornographic images of themselves, while NUS reported 67% of those in the industry have turned to it for living expenses while another 53% use the money for rent. One of the most shocking findings of this study was that over half of these students have a disability or long-term health condition, either mental or physical.
It’s safe to say from these findings that women are actively putting themselves at risk, not just in terms of safety, but jeopardising their well-beings out of sheer necessity to fund their basic human needs like eating.
Some turn to straight up client-to-client prostitution - usually through agencies where they have more control over the situations that they put themselves in – providing themselves more safety through an outside point of contact. Others, however, use the website seeking.com
In short, this website promises to provide ‘arrangements’ of these so-called ‘relationships’ between a sugar daddy and sugar baby. This website has seen hundreds of university students subscribing in the last year alone. This type of work seems to be on rise and a growing demographic. One student told the telegraph, “It is like Tinder but on steroids. The men are just so awful. It feels like you are in a supermarket. They ask for photos of your body – even just in clothes – from different angles.” So I decided to see what she was talking about for myself.
I joined the website in the beginning of January for this experiment. It’s extreme and just like the student says, it is like tinder on steroids. I had over 50 messages in under 24 hours, all very unsettling, with men asking for photos from different angles, discreet relationships that they could hide from their wives and often children, not to mention requests for photos and videos of me. I ignored most of these messages, but they didn’t stop. I would receive messages in the multitudes telling me I was “ignorant”, “rude” or a “bitch” for not responding. It was degrading and devaluing to say the least.
I didn’t give up there though, I wanted to get to see what these girls are truly experiencing, with most sugar babies claiming to earn between £1500-2500 on average per month, much more than your average bar job. I gave the men who weren’t overwhelmingly creepy the number of a burner SIM I had and started a few conversations. These men were beyond arrogant, wanting to “teach” or “mentor” me in my studies, with most wanting to take care of me…as though I was a doll. Some offered elaborate holidays, others shopping sprees, tempting offers if they hadn’t come from strangers twice my age. One guy even offered to pay for a taxi to his house in Kent so we could ‘get to know each other’ and then got seriously aggressive when I said I wasn’t comfortable with that.
I finally bit the bullet and went on a date with a man I will call Mark for the purposes of this. We went for a very expensive meal, and all he wanted to talk about was himself. This was unsurprising most of these men just want someone to talk to … but also to sleep with. He described every aspect of his success and boasted to me about his two million pound flat. Eventually the conversation turned to sex, where he told me in detail what he wanted, and to say the least he was unbelievably kinky, it was then I understood what these women were putting themselves through.
Degraded, shamed, frankly bullied into bed, and then being condescended to outside of the bedroom. It’s certainly not ‘easy’ money. I never saw this man again, but the other men who I’d given the burner number to did not stop. Months on from the beginning of this experiment I was still receiving messages every few days from them, asking why I wasn’t responding, being unbelievably abusive over text. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, because even if a girl does find someone non-disgusting, the male abuse doesn’t stop there, because they will do anything to get you to contact them. I have since shut down the account for the amount of harassment I was receiving
This was probably one the strangest and most eye-opening experiences I’ve ever done in the name of journalism. The women who do this full time might be able to pay their rent, but at what cost? Surely this shows how flawed our loans system is. Many of these girls aren’t on the maximum loan because of their parent’s income assessments, however lots of them don’t receive anything from these parents, and a typical student job would not make up the disparity between their rent and their loan. These students are truly putting their well-being and safety at risk by doing this job and it is entirely down to a fault in the loans system. While the government does nothing in response to these findings of student sex work, the industry continues to grow. These ‘jobs’ don’t just put one at risk, but further can scar people for life, leaving many in need of therapy after an abusive relationship or client they have found themselves involved in.
It’s time something was done to tackle this; a reform of the loans system, more student job availability and being paid a living wage, as opposed to having to wait until 25 to earn the maximum legal amount. London in particular is a danger zone for victims of sex work, and our students simply aren’t being protected. The universities in the city barely even mention that this work exists because of the taboo that surrounds it. It’s time to break that taboo, and that starts with us.