‘The Student Sex Work Project’ launched

Swansea University is undertaking a new research project into the number of students entering the sex trade.

The former Chief Constable of South Wales Police, Barbara Wilding, has said the number of students working in the sex trade must be researched in the light of growing concerns that students in Wales are turning to prostitution and other sex work to help fund their studies and support themselves financially through university. The research project will attempt to gauge the scale of this issue.

Ms Wilding, now chair of the board of Governors at Cardiff Metropolitan University, is particularly interested in finding out whether students are being forced into work in the industry. She also added that, if this is the case, then a support system must be implemented immediately.

Due to the lack of knowledge surrounding this issue in Wales, researchers at Swansea University believe an in-depth study to be necessary.

Swansea University has been provided with £489,143 of funding from the Big Lottery Fund. This will subsidise the research and help provide any necessary support needed.

As part of its research, the university has also launched a website: The Student Sex Work Project. The website was launched with the hope that it will encourage student sex workers to get in touch anonymously to share their experiences and opinions.

Ms Wilding has commented that this is an issue “we don’t know very much about at all”, but research from the National Union of Students and sexual health agencies would suggest that the problem is growing. A study from the English Collective of Prostitutes shows that calls from students to its helpline number have doubled in the past 12 months.

Ms Wilding, who stood down from her post as chief constable of South Wales Police in 2009, said that, during her time as a police officer, she often came into contact with prostitutes and sex workers. However, these were generally people with drug dependencies, mental health issues or desperate financial situations, and were therefore driven towards the sex trade with little choice. “With students, we think we are dealing with a different set of circumstances. They are intelligent, starting their lives.”

Megan David, Welfare and Community Officer for Cardiff Students’ Union, has raised concerns about the Student Sex Work Project on some occasions “advertise and promote sex work to students”.

She said, “despite arguing that the scheme is about promoting sexual health and supporting these students, I feel that students should be deterred from working in this industry at all, as it can not only have a negative effect on the students involved, mentally and physically, but also have negative consequences on the rest of society.”

However, she does recognise the significance of this study and believes research into the sex industry is important.

Hannah Pudner, director of NUS Wales, has said that the research is “more important now than ever”, with the growing number of studies showing female students turning to the sex industry to fund their studies.

With the reason behind students’ decisions to join the sex industry only based on assumption at the moment, the research project will be highly beneficial to understand student motives and experiences much more.

Bethan Jones