Oxford’s student sex workers are being asked whether the University is doing enough to ensure their safety and wellbeing in a new survey initiated by the Students’ Union.
SU VP Women Katt Walton, who wrote the survey, told Cherwell: “There is a demographic of students at this University who are engaging in sex work. I want to get information on how many there are, whether they felt that the University currently supports them, and if the University not providing enough financial support was a factor.
“There’s obviously a massive stigma around sex work, and I wanted students to feel like if they needed to access University support through, for example, through the Sexual Violence Support Service or through the counselling service that they wouldn’t be met with hostility or judgement if they disclosed that they were sex workers.”
The 43-question survey was sent out last week and asks about a multitude of aspects of sex work, from how it has affected the respondents’ self-esteem and their perception of the attitude towards sex work to the intricacies of their safe sex practices, how they advertise, and what services they provide.
Walton told Cherwell: “I was worried students might feel uncomfortable filling the survey in and might not want to engage with it, but it has been really successful. Hopefully it will give us an image of what sex work is like in the University.”
The survey also examines the demographics of student sex workers, including what college at which they study. Walton said: “Some colleges have a lot more money than others, so I think it might come out that students are having to fund their time as a student through sex work.”
Anna (not her real name) agreed to speak to Cherwell about her experience as a student sex worker. Knowing she wouldn’t be able to cover her living costs in Oxford, she entered the sex industry during her Masters out of financial necessity: “I spoke to a friend who had experience as a sex worker and it seemed like an option that could suit me.”
She has engaged in a number of types of sex work, primarily escorting and ‘girlfriend experience’- when a client pays for a sex-worker to pretend to be in a relationship with them during the session.
She told Cherwell: “The reality is that I definitely like sex, but sex as a sex worker is absolutely a chore. The cost of student living though seems to be ever increasing, so sex work is one of my main means of survival at the moment.
“It’s an incredibly dangerous type of work to be involved with and in the past, I have felt threatened and at risk with clients, which has caused significant mental and emotional obstacles in my life to overcome that have impacted on all sorts of relationships.
“I was unable to have sex with my partner without crying for quite a while during my first summer as a sex worker.
“The job is very risky – I was employed by a company one summer as an intern on the condition that I had sex with the boss whenever he wanted.
“To be honest, that job really fucked with me because I had to be constantly aware that he could want sex at any time and I had to be prepared to give it regardless of how I was feeling in case I lost the job or he withheld my wages (even if I was
tired, ill, didn’t want, etc.).
“Being cautious about what pictures I share anywhere on social media is something I’m always alert about in case a client finds it somehow.”
Anna also said that student sex workers are especially vulnerable because clients know they need money: “I once had a client ‘forget’ to pay me after 3 hours of sex, and another who requested that I go to his house to do incredibly hard-core bondage overnight for only £200.”
She told Cherwell that the University should do more to support sex workers: “It’s hard to access support without outing yourself as a sex worker unnecessarily. The University could provide or at least sign-post sex workers to Hepatitis B vaccines (of which there’s a national shortage), regular blood tests, and free condoms, lube, and other forms of contraception.
“In addition, supporting student sex
workers emotionally, with counselling and therapy, is something the University certainly has the resources to offer potentially through the Counselling or Student Welfare Services.”
Anna spoke positively about the SU initiative, telling Cherwell: “We’re a very vulnerable group in many ways – we’re often anonymous, and do our work secretly which entails huge risks. The University has the capacity to protect and support all of its students – even invisible minorities.
“The SU’s survey of sex workers I think can hugely benefit sex workers as a community because we would no longer need to be as isolated or hidden as before. That can only be a good thing.”
Sex work is currently legal in England, Wales, and Scotland. However, almost all activities surrounding prostitution other than buying sexual services are illegal.
A University spokesperson said: “We strongly discourage students from taking part in any activity like this which exposes them to dangerous situations.
“We encourage any students facing financial difficulties to talk to the hardship officer in their college or the central university’s hardship fund. All students should also feel comfort-
able to approach their college welfare team or the central services team if they have
any welfare issues.”
The National Union of Students (NUS) conducted a similar survey in 2016. One of the insights that survey provided was that more than half of students sex workers identified as LGBTQ+, and over half stated that they had a learning disability, other disability, long-term health condition, or impairment.The National Union of Students (NUS) conducted a similar survey in 2016.
One of the insights that survey provided was that more than half of students sex workers identified as LGBTQ+, and over half stated that they had a learning disability, other disability, long-term health condition, or impairment.