By Emma Hooper
Elle*, a 23-year-old Kingston graduate, perches her bottom on a bar stool and hooks her heels, sipping a cosmopolitan at a busy bar in Mayfair.
In her little black designer dress, she looks ready for an uptown date in our capital. In reality, she’s waiting to meet a total stranger. To sell him her time, even her sex, for dirty money.
Throughout her final year at Kingston Elle worked escorting to afford to her degree. £100 is the lowest rate for an hour with Elle in a public place. This pays for her time, anything more is a ‘private matter between consenting adults,’ says her agency website. Truth is, Elle’s clients are almost always booking her for sex.
“University puts so many pressures on students; money is just one of them. You have to do what you have to do to get by in life, that’s all that’s to it.” she claims.
Despite her previous career choice, Elle won’t fit the sex-worker stereotype you think. She doesn’t act as a victim of the industry, “Anyone uninvolved thinks we’re poor little girls, poor little victims – we’re not. You don’t ever have to do anything you don’t want to.” She doesn’t do drugs, rarely drinks alcohol, and comes from a loving family. Elle is intelligent and fun, but not ashamed about her sex work.
Elle only told a select few of her job last year, “I can remember mum calling a month after I’d signed on, I’d just come back from being with a client, I felt so guilty telling her I’d found a job in a sandwich shop.”
Elle was merely a pawn in the game that has become a university phenomenon across the country: students selling themselves to foot big education bills.
‘Ridiculously good pay’
A recent study by saafe.info revealed thirty-seven percent of UK escorts questioned had a degree, admitting escort work had paid for their education.
Fees for tuition were introduced at £1,000 a year in 1998, from 2012, universities will charge up to £9,000 a year. The average student today will leave university with around £23,000 of debt. Next year’s fees will rise even more, worst of all, with no guarantee of a job.
Elle says it is only the money that turned her to escorting. “I couldn’t get a regular job anywhere and as time was ticking, my overdraft was sinking. I came across the escorting websites after googling ‘student ways to make money’ and realised how ridiculously good the pay was.”
Elle says her time at the agency wasn’t exactly ‘hard work’, “It can be easy. I can remember having so many bookings where clients would buy me drinks, chatting about their terrible wife for two hours. I’d leave before midnight with £200.”
“With only two of my usual four bookings a week, I’d paid a month’s rent.”
Elle admits she did sleep with six clients for money – but that she could usually earn up to £1,000 each time she did.
“It can stop you doing a lot of things really,” she admits. “I don’t know how you would juggle escorting and having a boyfriend?”
‘Belle de Jour’
Elle says clients aren’t all what your made to think, “they’re usually older, but not the typical bold, fat, old perv stereotypes tell you.” She describes the agency as “caring” and “my security” and says every worker is given a rape alarm incase anything gets out of hand.
Elle admits that she has been lucky, “it is dangerous, I was definitely one of the lucky ones. you hear so many horror stories from the girls who have no option but to stay. One girl told me how one man held her hand painfully tight and wouldn’t let her leave to use the bathroom for the whole hour.”
“Another worker told me a girl had fallen in love with a client and so she left, and they lived happily ever after. How belle de jour.” Elle hates the ‘Belle de Jour’ relation to escorting being glam, the TV drama starring Billie Piper. “It’s fake,” she exclaims. “They make it look high class and glamorous – could you tell me what’s glamorous about kissing an old man for his money?”
Being her own boss
The sex work stigma could stay after finishing, when using a degree to find a more ‘regular’ job.”I do worry about people finding out,” she says, sorrowful. “Especially mum and dad.”
With Elle’s confidence, the reality of what she did last year is easy to forget. But with the highs £100 an hour rates, and being her own boss, one truth will always stay.
“You can’t get away from what people think of you,” she says, looking down. “We always called ourselves ‘escorts’, but if you’re caught, it’s nothing to be called a whore or slut.”
However, while graduates struggled up the job ladder with unpaid internships, Elle banked almost £40,000 to keep that difficult journey afloat. “I’ve earned more than anyone I know at uni.”
Elle stopped escorting a month after her graduation and now uses her first-class Biology degree to secure her job as a microbiologist assistant. “It was just a way of keeping me alive through uni,” she says. “I’ve moved on, but there are still times I feel like going back, only when I think of the money. But I know it would spiral if I did, then I’d never get out.”
*Elle’s name has been changed to protect privacy