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Students Turning to Prostitution and Stripping

There are many avenues for students engaging in sex work could to assure their own safety.

“After doing massage therapy for a while, I am now working as an escort full-time. I see two to three clients a day. Seventy-five per cent of my clients are kinkier and twenty-five per cent want vanilla sex or massage with orgasms.”

This is how a Canadian male student, who wishes to remain anonymous, describes how he started to consider sex work earlier this year to raise funds to attend a midwifery school in New Zealand. As a massage therapist working in Vancouver (one of Canada's most liberal cities) who identifies as “sex positive” and sexually experimental, he found the transition to working as an escort “pretty natural.”

“The work is what you make it,” he says. “I find it really rewarding to help clients explore their sexuality.”

He is part of a number of students who have taken work in the sex industry as a source of income. “Participation in sex work: students’ views,” a UK study published in May 2010 by the journal Sex Education, found that 16.5 percent of undergraduate students would consider working in the sex industry and that 93 per cent identified money as one of their main motivations. The same study found that 11 percent would consider taking a job as an escort.

Janine Benedet, an associate law professor at the University of British Columbia, who researches laws relating to sexual violence against women, thinks that a “more lax legal regime” in the UK may mean that the number of students engaging in prostitution could be greater than the number of those involved in sex work in Canada.

However, prostitution is illegal in the United States, where FBI and police are able to arrest sex workers, while prostitution has been legal in Canada since at least the mid-1880s. Recent developments also suggest that sex work may become completely decriminalized in Canada.

In September 2010, Ontario’s Superior Court Justice Susan Himel struck down three components of Canada’s prostitution laws —the bawdy house law, the communication law and the law that prohibits living off the avails of prostitution—in a 131-page ruling which concluded that Canada’s current prostitution laws violate the Charter of Rights.

Simon Fraser University prostitution researcher Tamara O’Doherty says that although laws in Canada may be changing to recognize the research on how criminalization of sex work actually makes sex work more dangerous, it “remains difficult for the public to understand” why adults would choose to work in the sex industry without coercion or financial stress.

“Sex work” is a broad term that can describe jobs such as erotic modeling, web cam work, stripping and erotic massage—which may or may not involve physical contact with clients. O'Doherty explains that factors that make sex work attractive to some students include a flexible work schedule, high pay and anonymity.

Benedet argues that the term “sex work” is a politically contested one, because it “de-genders the practice of prostitution, which is overwhelmingly about men buying and selling women and girls,” many of whom are poor and using it as a last resort. She believes that students are misled into thinking non-prostitution forms of sex work are safer.

“Many of [the types of sex work in the study] involve no direct physical contact and may appear to students who know little about the abuses in such industries to be relatively harmless ways of making money,” says Benedet. “I suspect that if they sat down and talked to some women who had left these sectors of the industry they might see it differently.”

Trina Ricketts worked as a stripper to fund her studies at SFU and Kwantlen University. As the founder of the online community and as an organizer of events such as the annual Exotic Dancers for Cancer Strip-a-thon, she is now one of Canada’s most recognizable sex worker advocates. But when Ricketts was a student, she was not comfortable telling her classmates about her work.

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