Risky business

Gabija Gataveckaite

Reportedly, five per cent of students have dabbled in the sex industry. Glamourland.tv

Shame, sex and promiscuity- the oldest profession in the world thrives in glamorous brothels, red light districts and dodgy alleyways.

Universities are no exception.

In 2016, the Irish League of Credit Unions reported that 68 per cent of students are in either full or part-time employment to fund their third-level education. An unknown number of these choose sex work.

Financial reasons are ‘overwhelmingly’ the main cause of students choosing to do sex work, according to UglyMugs.ie spokesperson Lucy.

“Financial reasons are the reason for which most people are doing sex work, because it’s the best way they can find of making the money they need to support their life,” she explained to The College View.

“People choose different types of work- some people would see that sex work is suitable for them because they’re okay with doing that kind of work, as it’s a particular kind of work that not everybody would be able to do, but some people find it convenient for them. With flexible hours, they can start and stop quite easily,” she added.

UglyMugs.ie is an Irish non-profit initiative which utilises technology to keep sex workers safe. Through an app and a website, workers have a platform to report clients which may be of danger; hence utilising the Australian term ‘ugly mugs’ and warn other workers to proceed with caution.

“Quite a lot of part time sex workers are in third level,” said Lucy. “At different times of the year, particularly summer when there’s a break from college, a lot of people are working and tend to dip in and out of the work.”

The modernised digital world has caught up with prostitution also- Lucy explains that the majority of sex work in Ireland is online. Cases of ‘girl working on the corner’ are now quite rare, as meetings can be arranged from the comfort of a worker’s own home.

“Most sex work in Ireland is online and there’s a case of several different websites- for example, vivastreet.ie with free and paid ads, and Escort Ireland, a premium website with paid for advertising and adult work is popular here also. Workers can choose to do webcam work or meet in person.”

Either through apps or websites, workers create profiles using pseudonyms, photos and a description of services they offer.

“Everyone offers different services- for example, massage only, or full service- meaning sex. Almost everyone has preferences with the kind of services they provide specified on the advert,” she added.

Legislation in many countries sees sex workers driven underground, their careers hidden in drawers full of lingerie. In Ireland, buying sex was criminalised in March of 2017 in an effort to shift the focus away from workers themselves and onto those who fund the industry- however, its effectiveness is questionable.

Sex workers in the Republic of Ireland have reported 54 per cent more crime from March 2017 to March 2018, in comparison to the previous year. Violent crime specifically, has increased by a staggering 77 per cent, according to Ugly Mugs.

“We saw a situation even before the law came in where crime was rising year-on-year but it has very sharply risen when the law came in but we don’t know entirely, it may be down to the law,” explained Lucy.

So how many women- and specifically students- are at risk? Official numbers speculate approximately 1,000 sex workers; however, Lucy believes the number is far greater.

“Our active membership on the site is 12,000- active members are people working in Ireland who were active in the last two years,” said Lucy.

“The estimates of around a thousand are not correct estimates- they don’t take into account that people use adverts and do not work full time- over the course of a year, you would find at least several thousand people working in and out of sex work, which conflicts with the estimate of a thousand.

“But we don’t see that much academic research unfortunately in the area so it’s hard to firmly establish the reasons for the large amount of crime,” she adds.

While prostitution is heavily researched in the UK, it is forgotten about in Ireland, with little to none independent research conducted.

Caroline West, a DCU PhD student, holds an MA in Sexuality Studies. According to West, Ireland’s culture and past is a pivotal point in the lack of sex work research.

“Sex work research is relatively new in Ireland, and for years the narrative about sex work was dominated by religious groups and institutions such as the Magdalene Laundries,” she explained.

“We have a culture of shame and stigma attached to sex and especially to sex work, furthered by feminist groups that campaign against sex work. So research has to catch up,” West added.

Before the new law came in last year, Lucy noted a significant lack of independent research.

“Sisters of Charity carried out by an independent research on prostitution- but it wasn’t independent as it was commissioned by a religious order,” she added.

West explained that this is because of Ireland’s thinking. “We do still have a conservative mindset, especially amongst the middle classes. Groups such as the National Women’s Council of Ireland have banned the Sex Workers Association of Ireland from joining, and feminist groups have rejected research from Amnesty, WHO, and other large international groups that have found that sex workers wanted decriminalisation of their work as it keeps them safer,” she explained.

Not only is there a lack of in-depth, independent research, the official estimates of people regularly undertaking sex work are inaccurate. It is unclear how many students are sex workers in Ireland- but The Student Sex Work Project, conducted by Swansea University, provides useful insight in the UK.

The reports finds that 5 per cent of students have ever worked in the sex industry and that those  who engage in sex work do this on an irregular basis and the money that is made from it is likely to be ‘low, mostly spent on daily living expenses’.

It explains that student sex workers’ motivations are centred on the need to generate money in a flexible way but a substantial group of student sex workers are also driven by more intrinsic reasons related to anticipated pleasure. About one in four student sex workers do not always feel safe while working, and this is more so for those involved in direct sex work.

The risky business that is the infamous ‘world’s oldest profession’ goes mainly over looked both in our legislation and society- but for many, it simply just another way of making money.


Gabija Gataveckaite

Image credit: Glamourland tv