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A new study released this week states that as many as 1 in 20 students who went to university in the UK have taken to the sex trade as a method to pay their fees.

The study suggests that the people more likely to turn to that world were men and the work that they would go into varied wildly. Some of the students found themselves in the world of prostitution whereas others turned to escort work or to stripping and “internet work”. This report comes from the Student Sex Work Project report and is more than a little worrying.

This study was conducted by researchers from the Wales based Swansea University’s Centre for Criminal Justice and Criminology. After compiling the data they were shocked at how high the figure was, but considering the breadth of the term “sex trade” it perhaps should not be as surprising.

Tracey Sagar, who led the study, said, “We now have firm evidence that students are engaged in the sex industry across the UK. The majority of these students keep their occupations secret and this is because of social stigma and fears of being judged by family and friends.”

Sagar would continue to say, “We have to keep in mind that not all students engaged in the industry are safe or feel safe. It is vital now that universities arm themselves with knowledge to better understand student sex work issues and that university services are able to support students where support is needed.”

The study interviewed 6,750 students, of that number 5% of men and 3.5% of women said they had worked in the sex industry, while almost a quarter, 22%, overall said they had considered doing so. Those figures might not represent an enormous trend but it can be used to estimate the number of students who felt the draw of this kind of work. The study also details the reasons these people had got into this world with nearly two-thirds of those involved saying their motivation was to fund a particular lifestyle. 56% said it was to pay basic living costs which is a little horrifying, while 40% wanted to reduce their debts at the end of their degree course.

Money was not the only motivation though. 60% of those who ended up involved in the sex trade said they felt they would enjoy the work, 54% said they were curious and 44% cited sexual pleasure as their primary motivation for getting into the trade. The issues arose when they wanted to leave and were not able to. Up to a quarter of those involved reported that they had difficulties when attempting to leave the industry, while a further quarter did not feel safe doing sex work at all.

Sagar, an associate professor of criminology, said, “Our research has not been about encouraging students into sex work, it has been about supporting students who are in sex work. And this is the reality, students are engaged in sex work occupations; this is a fact. Another fact is that some of them need advice, support and sometimes assistance to step away from the industry.

Sagar went on to state, “At the moment, students feel so stigmatized and judged that they are afraid or at least very reluctant to disclose their occupations to staff and services at universities that could help them. Stereotyping is also a problem.”

A number as high as 5% of students is not insignificant and universities across the country do, as Sager says, need to arm themselves with knowledge to help combat this. The sex trade can be a dangerous world and the fact that some of these students are having difficulty leaving should be a warning sign to other students who are thinking of joining the industry. What’s more we should try to help these students so that this is not the only option left available to them. If they need help they should be able to ask for it.