13/02/2014 06:32 GMT | Updated 13/02/2014 06:59 GMT

Universities And The NUS Are 'Not Doing Enough' To Help Student Sex Workers, Warns Charity

Dominic Lipinski/PA Archive
A masked parade of sex workers and supporters, take part in a parade, in Soho, London in an event to thank residents for helping to keep sex workers safe.

Student unions and universities are not doing enough to support the rising numbers of students who are turning to the sex trade to fund their studies, a charity has claimed.

The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP), a self-help network for sex workers, told The Huffington Post UK "much more" needs to be done to help student escorts.

Sarah Walker, who works at the ECP, said: "Universities and colleges, and the National Union of Students (NUS), seem more aware.. but much more is needed."

The NUS admitted very little academic research had been undertaken in this area, and more had to be done in order to support student sex workers.

Rhiannon Hedge, NUS Wales women’s officer, told HuffPost UK: “Most of what we know about students working in the sex industry is anecdotal.

"We want to move beyond hearsay and actually get some evidence so we can better support all students.”

The NUS has recently launched a research project with Swansea University in order to understand exactly how many students are turning to the sex trade to fund their education.

The research, which will take two years to complete, analyses the numbers of students involved in sex work and look at how universities and students' unions can better help those who have turned to the trade and need advice or legal help.

Researchers at Swansea University are currently reviewing data collected from surveys which were carried out last autumn and will be available in spring this year.

However, until the results are published the NUS is reluctant to take further action "until we find out the bigger picture".

The concerns come as a report found the number of students at Liverpool University turning to prostitution had trebled within a year.

An investigation by the Liverpool Echo revealed students are aware of the risks involved but say the money is just "too good to turn down".

The agency the Echo contacted had around 50 student escorts on its books. One madam, who manages six escort girls, revealed how the number of students turning to sex work had continued to grow.

She told the paper: "It’s tripled every year for the last three years. There’s not many jobs out there and this is the one paid job they can do.

"It’s easy money. They can make a lot – it just depends on how they look and how they perform."

University of Liverpool students are marketed as "the créme de la créme" of escorts by the agency.

The agency's escorts are "hand-picked" for their fresh-faced looks and on some websites student status is a marketing tool.

One profile, featured on the escort agency Sindy Dolls Elite's website, belongs to 19-year-old "Laila". The page advertises her age and "sexy size 8" figure.

According to the site: "Leila is a student who has experience in the travel and culture industry.

"In her spare time she enjoys dancing and socialising."

Another student said although she realised the dangers of escorting, she put it to the back of her mind and thought about the money.

She told the Echo: "I feel pretty bad about it sometimes, but I sort of just think of the money and get over it. Using the website makes it a lot less scary for you but it can still be dangerous.

"It’s always in the back of your mind to watch out. You learn to handle yourself and what to do when the alarm bells ring.

"There are some weirdos out there."

The ECP claims rising tuition fees and government cuts are causing young girls to turn to sex work.

Walker added: "Ever since grants were done away with and loans introduced, we’ve been contacted by increasing numbers of students considering or involved in sex work.

"Given that students face debts of £30,000+ at the end of their course, that jobs in shops and pubs that students traditionally take up are scarce, that living costs are up, that families have less money, it’s no surprise students are turning to sex work and jobs in the sex industry."

Hedge from the NUS said that the Student Sex Work Project will not only look into the figures around student sex work, but " is also concerned with the safety of student sex workers.

"Student unions are, and will continue to be, involved in ensuring the adequate support services for these students."

Since 2011, more and more students across the country have turned to escort work as a means to funding education and rent. Last year a blog for the Huffington Post revealed that there were as many as 30 students in York operating as sex workers.

In the same year, 40-year old Mark Lancaster was found guilty of voyeurism and trafficking women for sexual exploitation after conning 40 prospective students into sex work.