The number of students turning to sex work is rising as a result of the pandemic, Sky News has learned.
Figures show the percentage of those considering sex or adult work in a “cash crisis” has nearly doubled compared with last year.
Statistics given exclusively to Sky News by Save The Student show that 10% would consider sex work in a financial emergency. The figure was 6% in its 2019 Student Money Survey.
Live coverage of the latest coronavirus news and updates
In a separate study, 7% of students said they had actually turned to sex or adult work during the pandemic as a way of plugging the gap. Some 77% were female and 22% male, with 1% preferring not to say.
Rose, which is not her real name, turned to online sex work after she effectively lost her job in a restaurant as a result of lockdown.
She says she is also classed as high-risk in relation to COVID-19, so working through a subscription website was “safer” and “financially easier”.
The student, who is yet to graduate, says some relatives do not know about her recent venture into sex work because they would not understand.
She explains that without the work, which she describes as “performing and modelling”, she would be “struggling” financially.
“Nothing below the waist” is the line Rose says she has not crossed.
‘Without sex work I’d be struggling’
The woman, in her 20s, says she “loves” her new source of income and refers to it as “one of the best things” she has ever done.
“I used to be anorexic and now I am the most body confident I have ever been in my life,” she told Sky News.
“(It’s) very, very liberating. I’m in control of my own content and of my own body and I can do whatever I want with it because you can set your own levels.”
:: Subscribe to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker
Her boyfriend knows about her work and is supportive. She says she earns hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pounds a month.
Rose says she feels safe doing it “most of the time” and the website’s safety features help to make her feel secure.
She says that with an unencrypted website she once “had something leaked on to a very dark site …which did scare me”.
Tom Allingham says it’s been ‘one of the toughest years financially for students for a very long time’
Hospitality and retail sectors have been hit particularly hard by job losses, both areas where students tend to find part-time work.
As a result many have been affected by a loss of income, as well as diminishing financial support from their parents due to the worsening economy.
Tom Allingham, from Save The Student, says the number turning to sex work could jump in the year ahead.
He describes it as “one of the toughest years financially for students for a very long time”.
“We are certainly troubled by it because, as we say, there is no problem with people doing sex work if it’s something that they want to do.
“But if it’s something that they’re being forced to do through an absolute lack of money then that is something to be concerned about.”
He wants to see greater financial support for students from the government and also for universities to create environments where students in sex or adult work “do not feel alone”.
Jessica has set up the country’s only student sex worker support group
Jessica Hyer Griffin has set up what is currently the country’s only student sex worker support group, Support For Student Sex Workers, based in Manchester.
She says: “There’s been an overall increase in sex work altogether, probably because people have been let go from their jobs… and Universal Credit doesn’t pay enough for people to live on.
“Which is a positive thing because sex work is becoming more and more accepted as a job, but it presents its risks. Less clients means people are more likely to accept riskier clients.”
She says that a lot of sex workers love their jobs and choose to do their work – but “for the extremely impoverished, there isn’t always a choice”.
Her organisation offers community support as well as online support sessions, or help over the phone.
Support For Student Sex Workers advises on debt issues, safeguarding, and careers.