On the face of it she was a ‘scraping by’ student, but in private she was a ‘cam girl’ making thousands by performing and chatting with paying online audiences. And it appears she wasn’t the only one.
Earlier this week, the University of Brighton was criticised after an outreach group for sex workers hosted a stall at its freshers fair. More university students than ever supposedly do it, but a debate has begun to swell over whether there should be more visible help and advice for those who do.
According to research by Save the Student, the average weekly rent for a student is £131. The average weekly student maintenance loan is £139 leaving students with a weekly budget of just £8. Are students in the city turning to sex work to make up the extra cash?
Amy* was in her second year of university when she started her online web cam business. She told The Lincolnite what it was like.
“I had a part-time job which I absolutely hated and it didn’t pay very well. I was on a 12 hour contract at minimum wage which, combined with my student loan, barely covered my bills and food,” said Amy.
“When you’re a student, you want to do as much as possible to make the most of your time. You want to go out and have a drink, go on trips and socialise. Then you also have books and supplies to pay for, which aren’t cheap.”
In England, the amount of money you receive as a maintenance loan depends on your parents’ combined annual salary. The more they earn, the less you get. For Amy, this meant that she was only eligible to receive the lowest available maintenance loan.
“When I applied for university my mum had a really well paid job, but she quit right after I started so my student finance didn’t reflect what my parents were actually earning. I had very little money coming in and my parents couldn’t help me out,” said Amy.
As soon as she started camming, Amy was shocked at how much she was able to earn. “I genuinely couldn’t believe how much money I was able to make,” she said.
“I’d say I was on roughly £25,000 a year. I’d work three hours a day for five or six days a week, but I worked hard for those three hours. Some days would be tough and I wouldn’t make any money at all, other days I’d be raking it in,” she said.
“The best thing was I was able to work around my schedule. I would go to my lectures, do whatever work I needed to do and then come home to do my camming,” she said.
Sites like MyFreeCams and Chaturbate offer a platform for individuals to perform sex shows online in exchange for ‘tokens’ from users of the site. Each token is worth around five pence and users are asked to buy tokens before they enter the site which they can use to tip models and pay for shows.
“I used the site MyFreeCams because it attracts the most visitors. It’s a global site meaning that whatever time you go on, there’s always someone watching,” said Amy.
Amy had to create an entirely new online persona to keep her identity hidden. This included setting up fake email address, Instagram and Twitter profiles and changing her name.
“I kinda saw myself as like a radio or TV host when I did my shows. It’s not just about sex, lots of guys come on to chat and they want to see your personality. I would put on some music, have a drink if I was going out and just chat to them,” said Amy.
“Lots of men would want to go cam to cam, which is where you can see them as well as them seeing you. I think most of the men wanted the experience to feel more real. Lots of them would ask me to rate their genitals too, or yell at them whilst they masturbate.”
Throughout her time as a cam girl, Amy had her fair share of strange requests from customers.
“The strangest request I ever had was one guy who wanted me to send him my eyelashes, pubic hair and spit in the post. I was also asked to do a lot of incest stuff, so pretending to be someone’s sister or mum but I never did that as I felt too uncomfortable,” said Amy.
“There can be times when you feel unsafe. Even though you’re in your own home and no one knows where you live, it can still be frightening imagining who might be watching.”
Given that some students appear to be turning to sex work to make money, there is still a lack information and support available to student sex workers. Amy found it hard to get started without anyone to go to for advice.
“I had no idea what to expect. Apart from a few YouTube videos I had no clue. I didn’t have anyone I could talk to about my day, or seek advice from.
“I think it would be helpful for students who do sex work to know there’s someone out there they can talk to.”
Despite everything, Amy insists that she has no regrets.
“I don’t ever regret doing it. If I told you that I had a set up a business, started my own career and was doing really well, you’d tell me to keep doing it. It’s only because there’s such a stigma around sex work.
“The hardest part was not being able to tell anyone. I’ve only ever told a total of five people about my time as a cam girl. It’s so hard to have to hide the fact you’re making all this money and you have to pretend you’re poor!”
*The name Amy has been used throughout this story to disguise the source’s identity.