Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

Female University Students Working in the Sex Trade: A Narrative Analysis/Les éTudiantes À L'université Travaillant Dans L'industrie Du Sexe : Une Analyse Narrative

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

Female University Students Working in the Sex Trade: A Narrative Analysis/Les éTudiantes À L'université Travaillant Dans L'industrie Du Sexe : Une Analyse Narrative

Article excerpt

Female university students working in the sex trade constitute a growing phenomenon (Sinacore & Lech, 2011). The literature indicates that the primary reason students work in the sex industry is financial. Sex work helps alleviate the financial burden caused by rising tuition and changing grant structures (Chapman, 2001; Dolman, 2008; Roberts, 2010). In a study of undergraduate students at a London, UK, university, results indicated that 16.5% of a sample of 315 undergraduate students endorsed a willingness to engage in sex work in order to finance their studies "with 11% indicating they would work as escorts" (Roberts, Sanders, Smith, & Myers, 2010, p. 145). Additionally, in an exploratory cross-sectional survey conducted in Southwest London, Roberts, Bergstrom, and La Rooy (2007) surveyed 130 students and asked whether they knew any friends involved in the sex industry. More than 10% reported knowing students who had worked as strippers, lap dancers, erotic massagers, or escorts to financially support themselves. Over 6% reported knowing students who worked as sex workers.

Similarly, a qualitative study conducted by Haeger and Deil-Amen (2010) found that all the interviewees among the 8 student sex workers in a southwest city in the United States remained in the sex industry due to the advantages afforded by the "money-to-time ratio" (Haeger & Deil-Amen, 2010, p. 6). Though the financial reality of female students is undeniable, little attention has been given to (a) why certain female students turn to sex work over other means of making money; (b) the implications of becoming a sex worker; and (c) the economic, educational, and psychosocial realities of these women.

PSYCHOLOGICAL CHALLENGES RESULTING FROM SEX WORK

Research on psychological challenges resulting from working in the sex industry has indicated that sex workers often suffer from symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (Farley et al., 2003). Roberts et al. (2007) point out that sex workers are confronted with many dangers, such as drugs, violence, and health hazards, that are not typical in other types of employment. Moreover, research indicates that sex workers make more money if they agree to sex without a condom and that they risk physical abuse if they insist on protected sex (Raymond, Hughes, & Gomez, 2001). Additionally, student sex workers report having more money and time to complete their studies but this does not necessarily result in higher academic achievement. In fact, some students report a lack of academic motivation while others report dropping out of school altogether because they can make more money in sex work (Dolman, 2008; Milne, 2006). Poor academic performance has negative implications for students' future aspirations, personal relationships, and mental well-being (Hodgeson & Simon, 1995). Furthermore, students report contending with negative stereotypes and having to manage the cognitive dissonance they experience between their sense of identity and beliefs on the one hand, and their actions of engaging in sex work on the other (Haeger & Deil-Amen, 2010). The field of counselling psychology in general, and university counselling services in particular, is uniquely positioned to provide education, awareness, and outreach with respect to psychological effects of sex work for students, as well as a safe and confidential outlet should students wish to seek therapeutic intervention.

CANADIAN CONTEXT

For the most part, studies examining the phenomenon of student sex workers are being conducted in the United Kingdom (e.g., Cusick, Roberts, & Patón, 2009; Roberts, 2010; Roberts et al., 2007; Roberts et al., 2010). As described by Sinacore and Lech (2011), there is a dearth of information about university student sex workers in the Canadian context. A study by Lavoie, Thibodeau, Gagne, and Hebert (2010) that reported on the buying and selling of sexual services among secondary students in the province of Quebec may give insight into the issue. …

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