Jul 26th, 2019, 10:30 AM

Prostitution As A Part-Time Job

By Carolina Galbiati
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Gates of Ale
"Une pipe pour un McDo." Is prostitution among university students a critique of our social or educational system?

Prostitution as a part-time job has gained popularity among university students in recent years. This tradition dates back to the 1500s and is a common form of trade in universities today. Thousands of students all over the world struggle each year to complete their university degrees, submerged in student loans and debt, or are simply not able to balance their bills with costly tuition, rent, and textbooks. The phenomena of expensive colleges and higher rents have put many families into financial difficulties.

According to a 2017 study on Yale Global Online conducted by Joseph Camie, "Total student loan debt in the United Kingdom has reached nearly $100 billion. The average 2016 American college graduate has $37,000 in student loan debt, up 6 percent from the previous year, and total federal student loan debt now stands at $1.3 trillion, triple the level a decade ago. Similar student debt conditions are encountered in Australia, Canada, Norway, and  Sweden." The Inequality in global tuition rates and rising costs of living makes it hard for students all over the world to afford comfortable lives in cities like New York, Singapore, and London, all very expensive in housing and lifestyle.

Inequality in global tuition rates: Average annual tuition fees for full-time students vary from free to thousands of US dollars for full-time national students in public tertiary education institutions for the 2013/14 academic year. Image credit: OECD. 

While many of the students find jobs and work countless hours, university students have resorted to, in the last decade, finding easier solutions to maintain budget and academic life, regardless of whether these shortcuts are morally and physically abusive. To understand how widespread the phenomenon of prostitution and universities has become throughout the past decade, we must turn to the social media boom and dating platforms that made sex work within universities so popular.

The first big website that launched their platform with the purpose to initiate sexual exchanges for money was US-based Seeking Arrangement, back in 2011. That same year, Rolling Out magazine published an article by A.R. Shaw, where he explains how easy it is for young women to gain hefty compensation through these websites, "The college students upload seductive pictures of themselves to their profiles, reveal their interests and request weekly allowances of $1,000 to $3,000 per week. Some also ask for travel and other perks. Although sex is not directly offered on the websites, it encourages flirtation and the mention of money suggests that the students are seeking pay for play. One website, Seeking Arrangement, revealed that many of the students who have created profiles on their site come from middle-class homes and attend prestigious schools such as Harvard and Princeton." 

"Although sex is not directly offered on the websites, it encourages flirtation and the mention of money suggests that the students are seeking pay for play."

However, prostitution in universities is not only related to social media. The economic crisis and the current situation with student debt and skyrocketing costs of living in most capitals or metropolises has not facilitated the issue for students; in fact, the figures are actually growing. As students work several jobs and neglect their university coursework, these patterns create difficult lifestyles, instilling in them a need for more money - acquired by any means possible.

In the UK, this July, The Independent published an article stating that 10% of students join the sex worker industry in order to pay for university fees. According to new data released by The National Student Money Survey, "A new study of 3,167 students in the UK has revealed that 78 percent are struggling to get by, with some turning to sex work to make ends meet." In the US, the phenomenon has already been heavily documented, initiating the debate as early as 2011, when Seeking Arrangement went viral. 

The Huffington Post also covered this issue, interviewing three university students from CUNY (The City University of New York), Northwestern, and Brown University who have occasionally performed sex work or become prostitutes for financial aid. Averi Barron, a student at CUNY Hunter, interviewed by Taina Bien-Aime for Huffington Post on Seeking Arrangement, stated, "Seeking Arrangement describes itself as a dating platform, but it's a thinly veiled prostitution site. The site entices college-age women with sexy photos and videos of girls at "Sugar Bay University" with wads of cash in their hands, but it offers something far darker than sparkly packaging. Any high school or college kid who searches online for financial aid, college loans or scholarships, will see Seeking Arrangement pop up on her screen. You can't tiptoe around it: Seeking Arrangement is about middle-aged men hunting for sex with young women who need the money."

"Seeking Arrangement describes itself as a dating platform, but it's a thinly veiled prostitution site."

In France, the topic has reached its peak of controversy and has been talked about frequently for the last five years. Back in 2011, the Service Inter-Universitaire de Rennes sent a survey to all of the city's student bodies to get a better understanding of the situation. Out of 1,500 responses, 130 young women admitted to performing sex work to afford rent and pay their debts. In 2010 a similar survey was conducted in Montpellier achieving comparable results: out of 651 students surveyed, 13 admitted to accepting cash payments for sexual intercourse. If the numbers were to be put in proportion with the 2.3 million people within France's universities, this would become a discourse of "prostitution of more than hundreds of thousands of young women," says Danielle Bosquet, ex-deputy of the Cotes D'Armor (a department in the region of Bretagne), for an interview with Ouest France.

In 2013, UNEF conducted another study that stated that 10% of the student population in France lives in "extreme poverty." A year later, UNEF released more data about this issue, stating, "scholarships and accumulated aid capped at 493 euros per month, insufficient to live decently." 

Image credit: Twitter/Paris. 

In France, the promotion has reached the streets of its capital, where social platforms actively promote and encourage young students to sexual and monetary exchanges on the front doors of their academic institutes. In 2017, a website made news across the world for enabling prostitution and escort services, as a platform readily available to hundreds of minors and young women in France. Richmeetsbeautiful.be, launched in Denmark and all of Scandinavia last August, openly targeted "wannabe sugar babies" (young girls willing to perform sex work in exchange for money, gifts and nice trips) and "wannabe sugar daddies" (rich, older men willing to spend their money on engaging in such encounters) on their website. 

Beyond that, it also sent promotional vehicle billboards near L'Universite Pierre et Marie Curie, in front of the University Paris Descartes and in the rue des Ecoles, in the neighborhood where La Sorbonne is located. The billboard translation in English reads, "Hey, Students! Romantic, passion, and no student loan: date a Sugar Daddy or a Sugar Mama - richmeetsbeautiful.fr." After the news went viral on L'Express and Madame, France 24 released the official response from the mayor of Paris and followed up with the news that the website was being sued by the City Hall, for "inciting prostitution" among young women and men. 

Whether the textbooks and the tuition affect their finances, or universities are just too expensive for medium wage workers, the problem persists and becomes more evident each year. So how are local universities and academic institutions tackling the issue?

What safety measures can the parents trust, in order to ensure their kid is not affected by this financial pressure and social conditioning?

Kevin, a 29-year-old alumnus of Paris Sorbonne in Sociology explains that the environment in universities has not changed since he was a student: "A 19-year-old girl from Rouen in my department at Sorbonne would walk around the classes all day to ask boys for money, in exchange for a blow job and sex. A blow job was 50 Euros and sex was 100. She was given the scholarship to attend the university, and she was receiving financial help from CROUS Paris, and she still had to offer her body."

Looking at the numbers, going to university for a young adult in the 1970s was much easier and more affordable than now, even considering inflation. In the below Buzzfeed clip the issue is addressed as an economic matter, and why it is harder for US millennials to find stable jobs and proper housing compared to the situations their parents were in. So we must ask ourselves: did this phenomenon arise simply because millennials are too lazy to find a more fulfilling, legal job? Or is this actually a critique of the struggles many students face nowadays, in an economy that simply does not allow them to thrive and be financially secure during their college years?