23/10/2013 12:50 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

York Students Turn to Sex Work to Fund Degrees

Dozens of university students in York have turned to sex work as they struggle to fund their degrees, as revealed by Nouse.

As many as 30 students in York are operating as escorts, and eight agencies in the area were able to provide student escorts. One agency said they had up to seven students available.

Nouse has found that all but two escort agencies contacted in the York area were able to offer students to clients. Several students in York and the surrounding area have also been advertising themselves independently as escorts, including some male students.

One student who has worked as an escort in the York area, made £300 to £600 a day, and would do one or two days a week. The student is still an escort and when asked for a phone interview was unable to because, her housemates were "at home and they didn't know."

York Student Union Welfare Officer, George Offer, said he found it "really concerning that our students are being commodified and offered as products."

A Nouse reporter posed as a student looking for an escort, asking specifically if there were students available.

In many cases Nouse was provided with detailed information including pictures, with the student's face blurred out.

One agency said not to bother looking on the website as, "lots of the new ones are students". He said that as a result their profiles weren't yet online. Escorts being advertised could make £150 an hour and as much as £1000 a night.

Student escorts are going back and forth between York and Leeds, making it difficult to attach escorts to specific institutions.

Agencies did say they had student escorts when Nouse reporters asked about getting into the industry, and if there were any others studying at university who worked with them.

The agencies contacted said that other students working for them were able to cope with the workload on top of their degree.

From this dialogue Nouse was able to obtain more information about the specifics of sex work in York, including earnings and the split between the escort and their agency. These indicate that the availability of student escorts was genuine, and not just a marketing ploy.

"If you're polite enough you could make £1500 a week for a few nights, or £500 or £600 a night. It's a good way to pay for your degree," an agency told the reporter.

One agency said that out of the £150 charge for an hour they would take £40 while another agency stated a similar arrangement. 'You'll come away with £110', they said.

A charity who runs a helpline for those involved in sex-work confirmed to Nouse that they had received calls from students in the Yorkshire area.

A spokesperson for The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECOP) said they had received calls from the area from students, and also calls from partners of students worried they would need to go into "prostitution" to fund their studies.

They added that it was difficult to put a number on the situation as "people are very underground."

A spokesperson for Rape Crisis also commented, "It stands to reason that there will be an issue in York", in reference to student sex work.

The reporter posing as a student interested in becoming an escort raised their concerns about working alongside a degree, and asked if there were any other students, to which several agencies responded "yes".

Several charities in the York area which provide support for sexual assault in the York area took three days to pick up the phone while campaigners from the National Sex Worker Project told Nouse that there wasn't much support in York for escorts.

Although some of the sites advertise themselves as providing a companion, many simply state a range of sexual services online.

George Offer expressed his fears about students getting involved in sex work.

He said: "Personally, I believe that the sex work is exploitative, and it's really concerning that our students are being commodified and offered as products.

With extortionate academic and accommodation fees, students need to find jobs which pay enough and fit round their degrees, so opportunities like this are going to become increasingly attractive."

He added: "I strongly encourage any student working as an escort to use organisations like ECOP if they need support and want to get out, and I really want to remind everyone that the University has a financial support unit for students, accessed through the Student Support Hub, which can always help students when they're desperate."

This blog first appeared in York University's student newspaper Nouse, and can be read here