Image: Adobe Stock / Hakan

Over 56,000 students doing sex work at university to make ends meet

Due to pressures stemming from the cost-of-living crisis and real-terms cuts to maintenance loans, UK students are turning to sex work to pay their bills at university. 

With the average student down £600 per month, concerns have been raised by researchers who suggest that the lack of financial support given by the government may be contributing towards this incline of student sex work.

The popularity of online sex work rose during the pandemic through platforms like OnlyFans. Content creators like Florence Bark have commented on the financial incentive behind using such platforms saying: “OnlyFans is my main source of income”.

With the rise of student sex work, particularly online, the rise of revenge porn and increased concern for student safety has followed. The Revenge Porn Helpline saw the number of calls from people in sex work rise by 80% in 2020. This figure lessened in 2021, but not to pre-pandemic levels. In 2022, the number of calls to the helpline tripled from 276 in 2021 to 923.

A survey by Save the Student showed that 3% of students were doing sex work to meet expenses at university. The survey also showed that 6% of students would see sex work as a viable option in times of financial distress.

Data collected by ITV News also suggests that students in the West Midlands are the most likely to engage in sex work, with 5% participating in sex work and 10% in total suggesting that they would resort to sex work to earn money in an emergency. It was also found that students in the north of England were more likely to see sex work as an option in the event that they were running short of funds.

For us this is a symptom of the cost of living crisis and we’re worried there are some students participating in this who don’t feel like they have a choice

Jenny Smith, Policy Manager, Student Minds

Students like Zineb Bouita have commented on how difficult the financial strain has been: “University should be my future, but with money worries, I just can’t pay attention to it.”

Jenny Smith, Policy Manager at Student Minds, expressed concern, saying: “For us this is a symptom of the cost of living crisis and we’re worried there are some students participating in this who don’t feel like they have a choice.”

There has been a notable difference in the university experience of freshers this year due to the cost-of-living crisis. A student from Manchester Metropolitan University noted: “I see all these freshers having fun and I’m just looking for somewhere to live.”

The need for quick cash is a common feeling with students. Jake Butler, Chief Operating Officer of Save the Student, suggests that “credit cards, gambling and sex work” are used by students “as a way to make money fast, as a way to get by at the end of each month.”

The Department of Education have seen the need to intervene, commenting: “We are supporting universities to help students who are struggling financially by making £276 million in Student Premium and Mental Health funding available this academic year, which institutions can use on top of their own hardship schemes.”

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