Working in a minimum wage job for a week will earn you a little over £210. Working one night as an escort easily nets young girls much more than that. In fact, according to a Nouse investigation, they can earn up to £1000 for a single night’s work.
So it seems like ‘sex work’ is an almost obvious choice for the cash-strapped student: handing out your CV in town is unlikely to land you a particularly well-paid job, and working few enough shifts to be able to fit them around your degree and any other commitments you have as a student may well mean that even with a high per-hour rate of pay, you won’t take much home. But one night working for an escort agency can net these students an amount of money that rivals my maintenance loan for a whole term.
Despite how much economic sense it makes, finding out that there at least 28 students in York operating as escorts is something of a shock. And that’s because whereas the decision to take up most jobs involves simply a cost-benefit analysis of time spent and money earned, the decision to take up ‘sex work’ quite obviously involves something further.
That something further is deciding that not only is their time for sale, but also their body. And that, in itself, is nothing to do with either you or me as far as I’m concerned: their body, their decision. But I think we can all agree that as decisions go, this is a pretty big one. It’s not the kind you make on a whim.
And it’s unlikely to be a decision that you make because you’ve grown up wanting to work as a ‘companion’ for an agency that lists sex acts next to different prices on their website. Whether for reasons of misogynistic, bigoted social coercion or not, few people aspire to this kind of work. It’s a decision of pragmatism, not aspiration.
I think we ought to be both shocked and concerned. Not because of the nature of the work itself—as I’ve said, that’s nothing to do with us—but because the fact that so many students are in a position not only for getting into ‘sex work’ to be a solid financial move but that the monetary compensation is so valuable to them that it’s worth the extra cost of these particular jobs.
This is indicative of a real issue. Students are hard up. And not just in the spent-my-loan-on-booze way; in an accommodation-prices-are-going-up, Student-Finance-assumes-my-parents-can-pay-for-everything kind of way.
Something needs to change. Whether it’s a much-needed improvement to the way Student Finance determines how big a maintenance loan we need or more university grants for struggling students, some kind of increase in funds or decrease in outgoings is obviously and pretty urgently needed.
And you’d think that students turning to escort agencies to keep in the black would be a strong enough indicator of this to get something done.
Or you might, if you didn’t know that the NUS released findings of increased numbers of students turning to prostitution, gambling and putting themselves forward for medical trials to fund their studies two years ago and the Government’s response was simply that it already offers students a “generous package” of financial support.
And, of course, it isn’t just financial support that’s needed now. There isn’t enough emotional support for young people who’ve been forced into sex work by a lack of funds.
The charities Nouse tried to contact were either difficult or impossible to get hold of, which was annoying enough for us, let alone the people they’re supposed to be there for.
There’s no denying now that students are in a dangerous situation now. Rather than claiming that they already do enough, the Government and universities need to step up and work to resolve the problem.