The regular student prostitute story

A reader called me today to say that I had missed a media story I have long tracked, that of students turning to prostitution. And so I had. It’s rarely genuinely news – rather, it’s a story sold to the media to advance a political agenda. I wrote about the research reported in this story in June last year. But Rose Jackson, President of the National Union of Students, does manage to put a new twist on it:

I’m well aware of international students who have moved into sex work to support themselves while they’re studying here in Australia and I think that’s a pretty poor indictment [sic] on us as a country supporting students who have come here to study.

You know what she means. But why is it an indictment on Australia? Surely if there is anything wrong going on here it is a reflection on the people who arrived in Australia to study without adequate money to cover their costs, and not on the country? After all, they knew the rules and there are plenty of other places they could have chosen for their studies. But in Ms Jackson’s world, people are never responsible for their actions, the rest of us are.

Interestingly, the sex workers reported in these stories are generally far more level-headed than the people trying to exploit them politically. As reported on ABC radio last Friday:

Sex worker Rebecca says that as well as the lucrative financial returns, sex work gives students the flexibility that they need to study.

REBECCA: In terms of students, I think that

45 thoughts on “The regular student prostitute story

  1. There was an instance at one university I was a visiting academic at whereby a female second year student visited a young professor’s office and presented him with a business card. She worked as a stripper in a nearby city and whilst she was keen to improve her grades, she was basically proud of her work and wanted to return the display of information and cerebral stimulation that the prof had given her.
    Needless to say, given the university’s regulations, the professor recounted the tale as a cautionary one, rather than a brag.

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  2. I thought that progressive leftwing people were in favour of free choices in sexual activities (no government supervisors in the bedroom) so what is their beef about adults consenting to sex in a sitaution where it enables them to build social capital (and also have a lot of fun) by learning and studying towards an academic qualification?

    Actually with a bit of lateral thinking and some entrepreneurial flair, the students union could get into the business in a systematic way, setting up an integrated brothel and escort service that would not only cater for the basic “no frills”, revolving door or “in and out” service but could also match (say) students of Japanese with rich Japenese businessmen to maximise the non-financial benefits of the transaction.

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  3. A friend of mine who visits the US for work quite frequently said that some female students fly into Las Vegas and work as strippers for the weekend, earn a heap, and then fly back home to continue studying. Great for them!

    The NUS is just a fairly unintelligent, not very serious sectional interest group. I stopped giving them much credence a long time ago.

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  4. Rose might have a stronger argument if she’s talking about domestic students – if, in order to support themselves studying, students are having to work to an extent that greatly interferes with their study, then she’d have a stronger case.

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  5. Sacha has the right point here. It’s not that some students choose sex work as their form of part time work that’s the big problem, it’s the fact that many people can’t go to uni without doing lots of paid work while they study. This puts them at a serious disadvantage against other, more privileged, students.

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  6. If quite a few students are finding it very difficult to study due to having to work a lot, then I’d be happy for my taxes to help support them. However, I don’t support an arbitrary increase in Austudy (or whatever it’s called), as suggested by people in one or two political parties, without looking at the whole mix of tax/welfare/study assistance policies.

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  7. I guess if the NUS had its way, uni students would each be paid a stipend of $30k pa to save them from getting their nails dirty. Yesterday, Jon Faine interviewed people from the Brotherhood of St Laurence who have set up a savings programme to help ‘low income’ families save for things like new computers for their school-age children. As you’ve said before Andrew, the community’s attitude to what constitutes deprivation and warrants support, particularly in relation to students, has changed a great deal over the years

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  8. It’s strange the way computers are now seen to be essential for education. Eg, my step-brother, who’s in the final year of a law degree at QUT, reckons that it’s assumed that all students in his course will have a computer.

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  9. Andrew Norton wrote:
    “Surely if there is anything wrong going on here it is a reflection on the people who arrived in Australia to study without adequate money to cover their costs, and not on the country? After all, they knew the rules and there are plenty of other places they could have chosen for their studies. But in Ms Jackson

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  10. Financial institutions conduct credit checks to protect themselves from bad debts, to maximise their profits – not to protect people from themselves.

    What coherent approach would you suggest, David, for universities to ensure overseas students can “genuinely afford” their educations that operates better than the assumption individuals will consider their own circumstances before they do something? Should universities obtain peoples’ tax returns and bank statements and try to project their annual budgets (when they know nothing about an individual’s consumption preferences)?

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  11. Sorry, that should be my brother-in-law – I don’t have a step-brother.

    I don’t understand why it should be a university’s responsibility to ensure that international students are financially able to study – this makes no sense. They could offer advice, such as something like “it generally takes a minimum of $X for international students to pay for accommodation and living expenses, and many international students said that a minimum amount of $Y was essential”, but it’s not the university’s responsibility to ensure that people have enough money to live! It’s the individual’s responsibility.

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  12. I am in rare agreement with David. The Left joined the hairshirts a long, long time ago. So what’s the big deal about prostitution?

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  13. On another level, why should the students of the 90s and naughties mortgage their future for educational products they cant get a refund on?
    The baby boomers often got free education (if they needed it which in many cases they didnt) with grants rather than loans and then went onto a housing market and fuel prices that they could afford (they should have been on bicycles as it turns out).
    Society could afford it, just print more cash and dont put the young in debt for money they have not earned. Go all the way liberal and make the student financially independent of their family. A dollar is no longer a silver taler (meaning plate), a pound is not a pound of gold, the whole financial system is an illusion why allow the older generation to screw things up for the young financially?
    Free (safe) sex, free education.

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  14. I mean environmental science professors who rock up on motorbicycles and make unexplained pauses in the middle of every third sentence at Australia’s “top” univerisities. They claim have a monopoly of knowledge on a subject they cannot explain or make interesting.
    Why pay for this ? Why not offer a refund, shut up shop and save face.

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  15. James SImpson Says:
    “Financial institutions conduct credit checks to protect themselves from bad debts, to maximise their profits – not to protect people from themselves.

    What coherent approach would you suggest, David, for universities to ensure overseas students can

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  16. (This blog thinks I am Damien Eldridge. I suppose next time Damien drops in it’ll think Damien’s me.)

    I simply wanted to observe that on some regional campuses which are not serviced by a proper university library the students are entirely dependent on computers for materials. A lot of teaching is done online, too.

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  17. Nope!!! But that seems to be a problem with people from La Trobe Uni. Sometimes, blogs think I am Harry Clarke and Harry told me yesterday that one blog yesterday (or recently?) thought that he was me!!! I suspect it has something to with IP addresses or domains or something!!! Not to worry. I’m sure that you have far more sensible things to say than me anyway!!!

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  18. “Prostitutes are regularly exposed to violence, poor working conditions, an endemic drug culture and often face the prospect of getting ripped off by unscrupulous employers and sexually transmitted disease. Andrew might be right in thinking that prostitutes are making something of a rational choice, but I find it hard to believe it

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  19. Geoff – At a guess, the student sex workers are more intelligent and articulate and less desperate than the average prostitute, helping them avoid some of the occupational hazards.

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  20. David is confusing street workers with agency workers. There’s an obvious self-selection and segmentation going on with these 2 groups.

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  21. OK – if you want to live in denial about the plight of the average sex worker, that’s fine with me. However I’d invite you to take a look at the studies of violence done by (say) the office for women (NSW premiers department) which show increased rates of violence against aboriginal women, the homeless and (you guessed it) sex workers. To top things off, the document I’m reading from indicates there are barriers to reporting from women of non-english speaking backgrounds (by chance, overseas students?).

    Sobering reading

    Andrew, guessing doesn’t make it right. If the country needed more sex workers, I’m sure the 457 visa scheme would be a more appropriate and less elaborate mechanism than the university system. Perhaps Vanstone could help us out. I notice that the majority of the conjecture about the conditions of the prostitutes in question is overwhelmingly positive, which seems to be wishful thinking given the weight of evidence.

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  22. This is an interesting twist on an old story. In general, if individuals choose prostitution as a profession (in either the short or long run) that is up to them. In some states brothels are legal and students are able, under their visa conditions, to work for up to 8 hours per week (perhaps longer).

    That said, however, I imagine that many offshore parents would be shocked to hear their children were working as prostitutes. These parents are often paying for their childrens studies. This story (I suspect) is aimed at the offshore market. This is the bit that aims to damage the government. If the offshore markets collapse (or even just decline) the impact in Australia will be massive – our lefty (sorry) friends then imagine that the government would have to increase funding to universities. In the battle between the government and the student (and staff) union, the international students are just pawns. By destroying university income, they hope to return to the ‘good old days’.

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  23. If Germany (and Hungary opposite ends of the OECD economic spectrum) can afford free higher education, with generous grants for students, free public transport for students, adequate bicycle paths in the city centre, and a financially supported semester or two at a university in another country, why cant Australia?

    Are we that stupid that we want to take the fabian/keating/CIS/Texan oil ball and run with it into lower GDP with a less educated population?

    Answer: Cos we went smart and eat our breakfast..

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  24. Given the right circumstances an investment in a decent wifi laptop and residence in a 1st world country with good internet (not Australia), is probably a better and more cost effective way to get information than through a degree. Obviously, a course in bias/bull filtering would be required as a prerequisite in some instances.

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  25. 1. You can buy a computer that is sufficient to type essays and access course materials on the internet for less than $50. This is less than an average textbook and about 1/10th of the cost of student union fees.

    2. International students turn to prostitution not because they can’t afford their studies, but because they can’t afford their social lives. Very few international students would be footing the bill for their own studies. They do however, have to foot the bill for their Clothes, Shoes and Starbucks.

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  26. You must be a bit dim Simpson. I was a professor and lecturer in three continents before the age of 33. Dont bother applying for univeristy, stick to your trade old chap!

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  27. However,
    I do have some sympathy for the students around the world who mortgaged their future or paid the equivelant of $30,000 a year upfront to listen to my drivel in concentrated fromat. Most will not see a return. Education is not a casino.

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  28. Education should not be a casino, I mean.
    Alternatively, there should be a school of Vice studies at RMIT, dedicated to enhancing the gambling experience and assiting students who have chosen prostitution as a career path flourish in their careers.
    Possibly an official centre for recreational drug science and business at Monash.
    A centre for transgender medicine at Sydney.
    A school of internet pornography at ANU/Canberra.
    A centre for cannabis cultivation at the USC in Lismore.
    A centre for frigid prudes at Melbourne University.

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  29. “I was a professor and lecturer in three continents before the age of 33”

    At Maharishi University, no doubt …

    But getting back to the serious commenters, again David Rubie is missing the point. No doubt sex workers are more exposed than the average worker to violence in their job. And they cannier among them probably get a wage premium for that just as other occupations pay a risk premium. And do the statistics cited by David distinguish street sex workers who are usually desperate heroin addicts who throw themselves into this occupation to support their habit from agency escorts which is the category these university students are more likely to fall into? If not then the cited stats are probably not even representative of the risk of violence to agency escort workers.

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  30. Jason,

    I have no idea about the working conditions of our sex working, full-fee paying, overseas students. Obviously, neither do you. Since we are both making assumptions, I propose we sponser Andrew Norton to visit them, be appropriately serviced, and report back with photo and video evidence. I have $30 here as the first contribution towards this exercise and I can use PayPal or other online mechanisms to start us off. How about it?

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  31. I have no idea about the working conditions of our sex working, full-fee paying, overseas students. Obviously, neither do you.

    Well, I do. And the vast majority of them are not streetwalkers.

    They work most commonly either in (illegal but tolerated) brothels or through the personals section of major newspapers. At least in WA.

    The hottest ones would be agency escorts as Jason said.

    It’s a very popular job amongst Japanese backpackers and language students especially, as their poor English skills mean the only other job they can get is fruitpicking or dishwashing.

    It doesn’t cost anything to research this. Just pick up the paper and look under “A” for asian in personals section.

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  32. David, I have no first hand idea either but as Yobbo suggests, armchair research isn’t that hard.
    One day I was sitting at my local cafe waiting for my food and picked up the Daily Telegraph, the only reading material there. I was flicking through the paper and flicked past the classifieds, thought I saw a rather saucy picture for the classifieds and did a double take. And lo and behold discovered that the Sydney media’s great moraliser has pages and pages of classifieds devoted just to advertising the wares of these agencies. And yes, their employees all looked like the demographic that our overseas students would be drawn from.

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  33. 1. You can buy a computer that is sufficient to type essays and access course materials on the internet for less than $50.

    Have you ever used WebCT Yobbo? This is the CMS used by most Australia universities. It doesn’t work too well on machines with less than 512 mb ram, and it also needs a broadband connection.

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  34. Jason and Yobbo,

    I’ll defer to your back page trawling of advertisements. I was keen on taking up a collection for Andrew to get some concrete proof and help him out at the same time. One of his articles seemed to imply he was having trouble meeting the ladies, and it seemed like a neat way to kill two birds with one stone. The offer still stands if anybody is interested in contributing.

    I’m still uncomfortable with the idea of importing students for prostitution, but it’s probably just me finding it personally distasteful.

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  35. Remember the report in the Australian (or SMH, can’t remember) that had polled thousand’s of sex workers, and found, surprise surprise, that 90% of them were drug addicts and worked in the industry to fund their addictions. While I can’t vouch for the veracity of the report, if true it suggests that any overseas students who end up in the sex industry do so because they develop expensive drug habits while students- not something you can support working as a casual in Myers on weekends.

    On a broader front – why the opposition to students working part time ? I and my student mates always found we were more organised when working PT (15-20 hours per week) and actually studied more (and studied smarter) than when we could lie around all day, watching re-runs of The Bill and postponing beginning study for the day.

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