Prostitution in Universities (The UK and Colombia) by Judy Chicangana

I have such great memories of my time as a full-time student at a Colombian university. My biggest concern was getting acceptable grades to show to my parents. Well, that was in my case, my parents paid for my bachelor’s degree. Yes, I know, I was really lucky!.

Many students tried to fit into the popular groups and sometimes they were manipulated to go against their values. My goal was to find good friends to support each other and to do all those crazy things that young people do. I never tried to be popular, in fact, I wanted to go unnoticed. Meanwhile, I heard all kind of stories about women being escorts and a few of them were dating drug dealers. But they were just rumours, I never had any certainty.

Recently the BBC published an interesting article about how prostitution networks recruit university students in Colombia. Although the report shows this phenomenon rising in the last few years, the lack of reliable data does not allow us to analyse the problem. The shocking information is how easily a woman can be recruited. I have read interviews about women that never thought of becoming prostitutes who have entered in the world of pimps, abuse, STDs and sometimes drugs because they wanted to maintain a luxurious style of life or solely to pay for their studies. Everything starts with an innocent proposal of taking an all-expenses paid trip with unknown students or, a poster in the bathroom saying: “Do you want to earn some extra money?”

What about the UK?

The National Union of Students (NUS) pointed to research led by Swansea University into student sex work, which found that almost 5% of students in the study had undertaken sex work at some time. “Financial hardship is a principal motivating factor for students to pick up work in the sex industry… ”. (House of Commons, 2016).

The panorama is concerning. The money advice site ‘Save the Students’ (2018) published the national student money survey where it says that 3% of UK students are doing “adult work” rising to 4% when a cash crisis comes. An expert who works there was interviewed for an article by The Independent. He said: “Every year, our survey reveals students are involved in sex work, whether by choice or because they’ve run out of options”. 

The survey was completed by 3,167 students all over the UK. These are some of the highlights (Bushi, 2018):

  • Getting by on a student budget is pretty damn hard. Not only are 78% of students stressed about money, some of them can’t afford to eat or drink.
  • Being poor has pushed me to look into sex and cam work”. 
  • Parents hand over an average of £138.50/month for each child they support at university – that’s £1,662 each academic year. This is additional to the maintenance loan that is £600 per month approximately. While the cost of living on average is £770.
  • These are 2 answers to the question: How far have you gone to make money? 
    • Licked a poo for £20.” 
    • Selling worn pants.”

The Independent article published a few interviews conducted to students involved in sex work. Here are some quotations (Busby, 2018):

•    “…I have used both Twitter and Seeking Arrangement to find pay pigs and sugar daddies. I typically get around £50 a week, plus an extra £5-£10 per photo of my feet or socks, if I choose to do that.”

•    “ … [webcamming] I’d be making a grand a week easily. My earnings have dropped dramatically after taking time out for exams – now I’m making just under £100/week – but the money helps regardless. It’s reassuring to know I’ll always have a back-up option… ”

Prostitutes collective (2018) says that In 2017, 75000 UK students registered with the sugar daddy website SeekingArrangement, which represented a 30% increase from the previous year.

What are the impacts on mental health of female prostitutes?

Evidently, being forced to prostitute yourself to pay for your degree has an immense impact on the person’s psyche. The following picture shows some of the issues faced by the students:

The University of Leicester published an article in 2017 called Sex Work and Mental Health. It says that depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicide are the most common mental health issues. It is evident that being a prostitute in the streets is not the same as being a prostitute while in university; sex workers with better work conditions would have better mental health. However, the emotional distress will leave profound marks with significant and enduring effects.

How can society survive when its future professionals are forced to sell themselves to pay for their degrees? Today’s students are tomorrows professionals, politicians, line managers, entrepreneurs and colleagues. 


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