One in 20 students has worked in sex industry to cover debts


New research by the Terrence Higgins Trust has found that one in 20 university students has worked in the sex industry to fund their lifestyles or reduce debts, involving everything from prostitution and escorting to stripping and internet work.

The Student Sex Work Project is a three year project led by Swansea University in partnership with Terrence Higgins Trust, University of South Wales, National Union of Students Cymru and Cardiff and Vale University Health Board.

The study involved 6,750 students, of which 5% of men and 3.5% of women said they had worked in the sex industry, while nearly 22% overall said they had considered doing so.

Nearly two-thirds of those involved said their motivation was to fund a particular lifestyle and 56% said it was to pay basic living costs, while two-fifths wanted to reduce their debts at the end of their course.

Money was not the only motive, as three-fifths thought they would enjoy it, 54% said they were curious and 44% cited sexual pleasure as their motivation.

However, up to a quarter reported that they had found it difficult to leave the industry, while a further quarter did not feel safe doing sex work.

The report said the number of those accessing counselling rose to 21% for student sex workers – but universities often had no specific policy to deal with the issue.

The findings suggest:

  • Nearly two thirds were motivated to earn money to fund a lifestyle, but 45% wanted to avoid debt
  • 59% thought they would enjoy the work, 54% were "curious," 45% wanted to work in the industry and 44% were motivated by sexual pleasure.
  • Of those who had worked, more than half was for less than six months, or for less than five hours a week
  • Some 76% of students engaged in the sex industry reported that they felt safe in their work "always" or "very often" but 49% involved in direct sex work had a fear of violence.
  • Sex work is not a gendered occupation and the presence of a male and transgender sex worker population needs to be acknowledged.
  • Sex work is not one experience and student sex workers have varying motivations and experiences, as well as potential needs.
  • Safety is a worry for some sex workers and students engaged in the sex industry face institutionalised stigma and prejudice which hinders their health and wellbeing as well as social inclusion.

Steve Jones, director at Terrence Higgins Trust Cymru, said: "It has long been the assumption that young people who enter the sex industry do so to fund basic living expenses.

"However, this research shows young people's reasons for entering sex work, and their motivations for remaining in it, are more complex."

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