Australia’s Costly Fees Drive Foreign Students into Sex Work: Study

SYDNEY ~ The crippling cost of studying in Australia is forcing foreign students to take up risky sex work to make ends meet, a researcher has said.

A sharp rise in university fees in recent years and visas that restrict international students’ working hours had driven some into illegal prostitution, Sarah Lantz from the University of Melbourne found.

“They were mainly engaged in the high-risk sex industry and that’s largely because they needed huge amounts of money,” said Lantz.

Foreign students must pay the entire cost of their education in Australia with medical degrees, for example, setting them back more than AUS$200,000 (US$150,000), according to government figures.

The study by health researcher Lantz tracked 40 students over four years who were funding higher education by working as prostitutes in Melbourne.

“It’s a very accessible industry for high amounts of money, and a relatively short working week as well,” Lantz said.

She said changing attitudes meant many students now viewed working in the sex industry as a viable means of paying for their education.

The study included Australian students but found the situation was worse for international students, who were turning to the more dangerous illegal sex industry – rather than government-regulated brothels – to make the money needed to pay large upfront fees, Lantz said.

“A few of them tried working on the street, but violence drove them into the illegal escort industry,” she said.

Although prostitution is legal in most of Australia, the riskier underground industry offers the chance to earn larger cash-in-hand payments, Lantz said.

Student representatives said the women ended up in the sex industry because their visas limited them to working 20 hours a week.

“I think that’s a pretty poor indictment on us, as a country supporting students who have come here to study,” National Union of Students president Rose Jackson told ABC radio.

A government committee investigating the financial burden of Australia’s increasingly user-pays higher education system warned last year that student prostitution raised “serious moral, health and safety concerns.”

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