Student Sex Workers exist, but what is their reality?

Sex workers at London Slut Walk stand with a banner that reads “We Demand Sex Workers Rights”.

By Carly Bell 

Statistics suggest that almost 5% of students have worked in the sex industry across the UK.

The Student Sex Work project, led by Swansea University alongside the Terrance Higgins Trust, also found that one in four student sex workers didn’t feel safe at work.

Here in Scotland, sex workers can work legally, as long as they do so indoors and alone.

This leaves sex workers with no choice but to work without support or protection, or they risk being arrested for “brothel keeping”.

In Scotland over the 2017-2018 period there were 18 arrests made for brothel keeping, and 22 for soliciting,  a result of the complete criminalisation of street sex work and of sex workers working together, even for safety without any management. 

We spoke to Sarah*, a local 23 year old student sex worker about her experience with work and studying:

“After two years of doing sex work full time, I’ve decided to return to university to complete a masters degree” She said.

“My life isn’t all that different from yours really, I wake up, walk the dogs, make a cup of tea, take my meds, check social media and do my emails, go to uni, scroll through twitter instead of listening to my lecturer, and go to work.”

When asked about whether she feels she is supported in uni, she said: “I’m not sure, I don’t really tell people beyond my close friend group, but I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable with everyone knowing; the stigma makes it too much of a risk and I don’t want to be treated like a freak by the uni”.

She added: “The hardest part is balancing work and university, because of the nature of the job, working to deadlines is really difficult. I don’t have lots of money and can’t turn down work when it is offered so my uni work often suffers.”

We also spoke with Molly, a spokesperson for Scot-Pep, a sex worker led organisation in Scotland, about whether or not they have seen a rise in student sex workers:

“With the rise of austerity affecting student grants and eliminating financial support for students from lower incomes we’ve absolutely seen an increase in the number of students engaging in sex work across the UK.”

She said: “We are lucky here in Scotland that university education is considered a right and is free for Scottish pupils, but migrant students are not so lucky and routinely turn to sex work because their financial situation, legal status, and time commitments at university don’t leave them the ability to work in the traditional workforce.”

*Sarah’s name has been changed due to privacy needs: