The adverts called for “discreet and open minded” girls over 18 years old and stressed: “all nationalities welcome”. They also claimed to offer potential candidates the opportunity of earning over £2,000 per week. The small fliers were discovered pinned up inside a number of Glasgow University buildings, including the John McIntyre building and the Department of Film and Television Studies.
Gavin Lee, president of the SRC, took a strong line against the advertising campaign targeting students.
He said: “It is disgusting that vulnerable girls are being targeted by Escort agencies. The SRC is deeply concerned that students may be forced into sex work.”
Posing as a potential escort, a Guardian reporter replied to the agency advert, speaking to a man identified only as ‘Robbie’. He said he was accustomed to employing students.
He told Guardian: “Plenty of students work for us. If a few girls were being sent out on a night to the same function we would never send out any from the same university, you know, in case they knew each other. We realise girls who work for us that are at university want to keep it discreet.”
Under the same guise, Guardian was told by ‘Ben’, a source at a different escort agency, that they received regular applications from students.
He said: “We have a lot of girls who are students. I receive about 20 applications a week; there is always at least one from a student. A lot will burn out after six months.”
Linda Thompson is the Development Officer for Women's Support Project; her remit is to raise awareness of the issues around commercial sexual exploitation.
She warned that escorting very often carried an unwritten agreement to have sex with the customer, and that agencies posing as legitimate businesses were exploiting loopholes in the law that would ultimately criminalise the escorts.
She said: “Common sense tells us that any job which requires 'no experience' but which pays highly will have a hidden cost. That hidden cost to the women is that sexual services are expected.
“Whilst advertisements for agencies offer a woman’s ‘company’ and ‘time’ for a fixed price, reading further the sexual acts are also clearly stated. “If an agency is accused of promoting prostitution the managers or owners will put the responsibility onto the women themselves.”
In a survey of 100 female students taken outside the library, Guardian discovered that, at the prospect of earning £2000 a week, 13% would consider a career in escorting.
Thompson voiced concern at this survey’s result, blaming an “increasingly sexualised society” for the growing public acceptance of the sex industry in general.
She told Guardian: “Whilst it is worrying that so many female students would consider escorting, it is not surprising that they are tempted by offers of earning £2000 a week. In our increasingly sexualised society, the terms 'escorting', 'lap dancing', 'exotic dancing' and also 'sex work' are used to normalise, and in some cases glamorise, what is in fact prostitution. The reality is that young women are put under pressure to conform to this norm, or risk being labelled prudes or having no sense of humour about ‘harmless fun’.”
This trend is supported by research at Westminster University, London, which concluded that 3-4% of students were employed in the sex industry. Following this, research at Kingston University, London, reported a 50% increase in the number of students working in the sex trade between 2000 and 2006.
The website for Ben’s escort agency, which advertises for five escorts in Glasgow who are students, carries a legal disclaimer stating that the company does not advertise prostitution.
It says: “Any money paid to [the escort] is for time and companionship ONLY. Anything else that occurs is a matter of choice between consenting adults.”
However Ben was more explicit about the services on offer when speaking to Guardian’s reporter.
He explained: “The rates are about £300 for an hour or two. People will promise you this and promise you that but the bottom line is that you’ve got to realise that the money is phenomenal and you’re not going to get it for just having dinner with someone. 99% of the time this work involves sex… there’s nobody out there that will pay that without sex.”
Lee urged students not to take up a career in escorting lightly, saying: “We’d urge any student considering working in the escort industry to speak to the University or Advice Centre about financial help that they can get. Putting yourself in a position that can be both mentally and physically damaging does not have to be an option.”