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Red lights aflame as European students opt for sex work

Many university students pick up extra cash by waiting on tables or pulling beers. But a new study has found that an increasing number are turning to the sex trade - and that they wouldn't have it any other way.

A prostitute waits on the street

An increasing number of prostitutes come from student ranks

Prostitution is the oldest trade in the world, they say. But while the trade may be old, the actors are predominantly young and, increasingly, coming from the ranks of the student class.

This theory has been confirmed in a study by an international group of students from Berlin, who found there are many university students across Europe working as prostitutes, or seriously considering doing so. The survey looks in particular at the current situation among people studying in Berlin, Paris and Kyiv.

Sonia Rossi, an Italian student living in Berlin, explains how she ended up in the sex trade: "I've tried out several other jobs before. I tried my hand as a waitress, a child-minder and I also worked in a call center," she says. "Who would have thought that I'd become a sex worker during my studies."

A women standing on a table serving drinks

Table-top dancing was also included the sex trade genre

But in her book - with a title too indecent to be mentioned in this article - Rossi also says that she has never regretted the move.

Familiar story

Now, the Berlin students who carried out this latest study, know that Sonia's case is nothing unusual. A poll they conducted among nearly 4,000 young men and women in Europe clearly shows that prostitution is a widespread phenomenon in student communities.

"Sex work embraces not just straightforward prostitution, but also table-dancing, phone sex, posing naked in front of a web cam and similar things," says Felix Betzler, one of the authors of the study.

Another of the authors, Agne Stankeviciute from Lithuania, says that in Berlin alone one in three students has thought seriously about working as a prostitute. In other European capitals, such as Paris or Kyiv, she explains, the proportion is only slightly lower, even though the legal systems in those countries make the practice more difficult.

"We tried to look at really different cities. Berlin is one of the most liberal cities in Europe, and prostitution is legal here. France and Ukraine have different law systems. In Ukraine, prostitution is not allowed. And in France it's something inbetween. Some kinds of prostitution are allowed, others are not," she says.

A class full of students

One in 27 students had experience in sex work

Choice, not coercion

Yet thinking about becoming a sex worker and actually becoming one are different things, admits Felix Betzler. He says, though, he was still surprised at some of the study's results.

"One of our key findings is that one out of 27 students who replied to our survey have had experience in sex work or are still engaged in it. In this group of sex workers there are as many men as there are women, which came as a surprise to us, too. We had assumed that there would be more women," he says.

The authors of the study say their findings show that the majority of students engage in sex work because they see it as the best way to earn good money quickly. Some make up to 3,000 euros ($4,300) per month, and most need the money because they're heavily in debt.

But many respondents said it was never a question of having been forced into prostitution. They said they enjoyed the work and would miss it if they stopped.

Author: Hardy Graupner, Berlin / dfm
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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