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‘I was Forced into Sex Work’ 

By Imasha Costa 

This article contains topics of sex work and sexual violence. If at any point you may feel like you might be triggered, please skip this article. 

Earlier in the month of October, UCC Students Union had reopened their Food Bank after they saw the rise in students struggling financially. The food bank since then has received tremendous support from all across the country, with the SU’s GoFundMe reaching almost 20 thousand euros out of their 5k goal. The food bank initiative was first set up in 2019 by then welfare officer, Naoise Crowley. However, this raised the question of whether there were enough supports available for students within UCC. 

On reaching out on various social media platforms, to talk to students that availed of the services of the Food Bank, a UCC student approached me (last month) with the urge of wanting to share their story, remaining anonymous, this student calls out the university for not catching the problem in the beginning before things went too far. 

In the first year of their degree, 2018, the student was not eligible for SUSI or any form of grants. They were estranged from their parents, but were not able to prove it legally due to the costs of courts, lawyers, and the entire process. They had very little money to get by, and because of their Mental Health issues, they did not often have enough money to pay for their medication. They were living off on 40 to 50 euros a week. With medical bills coming up to almost 150 euros a week and being unable to pay for much, this just led the student to getting sicker, losing weight and towards a downward spiral. 

The University stated, after the student approached them, that their parents earn this much money, and that they needed to legally show that they were estranged from their family. To be literal in quotes, the University stated that the student was ‘pulling their leg/ chancing their arm’.

The student had ended up having to borrow a lot of money from their friends and felt really guilty. It came to a point where they had to go through three options in their head. Option one was to either drop out, and go back to a toxic environment in their household. Option two was to get a part time job that would barely cover their medical bills and option three, was to have a full-time job whilst being a full time student in UCC that could lead to them failing the year, and going through repeats. 

The student was desperate to do absolutely anything to earn money, to be able to get food and cover the cost of their medical bills as well, and had no support given by UCC authorities. 

In November 2018, they joined a website known as Seeking Arrangements, which is an American based website that is an online dating service. At first, they were sending pictures of their body which they were comfortable with as their face would not be in. The student states that ‘with websites like this, it usually starts out like that.’ However, people that they interacted with, kept pushing for more and because they were in such a desperate way, they would do anything for the money. The student felt that they were forced into this situation due to their financial hardship. 

They eventually ended up meeting (through the website) ‘loads of different people, sleeping with them, and [were] in very dangerous situations on numerous occasions.’ There were moments where consent was completely broken, and they felt ‘powerless’ and ‘didn’t know [their] rights.’ Being 18 at the time, and because of the nature of what they were doing, they felt like that they could not turn to anybody and felt so ashamed of the situation. 

As the student went on to talk to me about their experience as a sex worker, they spoke about how being a sex worker, out of financial stress, affected them mentally, physically and emotionally. This went on for six months until the student ended up getting very sick from contracting a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI), and after informing Student Health as to how they received it that was when they started helping. The student states that ‘once the shit had hit the fan, all of a sudden they were listening to me.’ They state that this was recognised as the lowest point for them. But finally, they started to feel the support coming in from the University. They did get out of being a sex worker, and started teaching to support themselves, but there was still very little that the University could do. 

The Food Bank in 2018 really did help the student incredibly as they did not have to spend that extra 40 to 50 euros for food and instead be able to put it towards their medical bills and be able to look after their mental health. 

The student states that ‘people would be ashamed’ especially when they are in a ‘desperate financial state.’ They believe that anybody could be forced into sex work, especially when they are in college. For them the only way that they could have actually continued staying in college was by ‘selling their body.’ The student still finds it difficult, but has been informed about all the support available. In regard to their current mental health, they are still recovering from the trauma of having to go through all that. 

Sex work is prominent amongst university students. In a survey conducted by Motley magazine in February 2021, across the four colleges of UCC, about 1.7 per cent of students disclosed that they used Only Fans, an online website that allows producing digital content and monetising it. According to the article, the respondents stated that ‘earnings made via the site helped supplement income and alleviate the stress of losing their jobs during the pandemic,’ (Motley Vol XIV; Issue 5).

The sex workers community is supportive and looks out for one another, but there are also abuses that come out of it, with regards the safety of the students. There are risks with sex work due to the illegality of it, not in concern with digital content but actual meet ups. It is illegal in Ireland to buy sex. The story above is just of one student, a student that was desperate and was ‘forced into sex work,’ – Imagine if others came in and told their stories as well. It would show how the system for third level education funding is broken, and needs to be desperately fixed. Students need a way of support that isn’t just through their union, but also from the government and their university itself. Things need to change, they need to evolve, the system needs to be better. 

 

If by any chance, you require any form of support, the Sexual Health Centre in Cork City provides services for sex workers.

They can be contacted at info@sexualhealthcentre.com or ring them at 021 427 6676