Schoolchildren as young as 14 see sex work as an easy way to make money, an expert has caimed.
Chloe Combi, the author of the best-selling book ‘Generation Z, Their Voices, Their Lives’, says more and more younger teens are tempted to use ‘sugar daddy’ services or post sexual images on subscription sites like OnlyFans in exchange for cash.
Chloe, who has launched an interview-led podcast on youth issues called ‘You Don’t Know Me’, says technology and the media are key reasons sex work has become normalised for teens.
She says: “A sex app is as easy to click on as a news app.
“Celebrities opening OnlyFans accounts is reported in family newspapers, and they are selling sex acts, sexual images, in exchange for money.
“I’m talking to year 10 and year 11 girls who think it’s a good idea, and are very aware that they can make money from sexy pictures.
“I’ve spoken to lots of young people in this position. So many kids are trying out gateways to sex work.
“They have been exposed to sex work in a way that is normalised and glamourised by the media and technology. They call OnlyFans ‘sex Instagram ’.”
The problem is exacerbated by minimal checks from the websites, she adds. In many cases, all teens need to do is tick a box and have a debit card to post sexual images. There is no other oversight.
And sugar daddy sites actively target students to help pay for the costs of university.
Seeking Arrangement, which claims to have more than 500,000 British university students enlisted as ‘sugar babies’ on its site, advertises that students can earn a ‘monthly allowance’ of £2,900 on average by meeting ‘sugar daddies- – usually rich older men. It even has a specific ‘Sugar Baby University’ UK website.
Seeking Arrangement, which operates in 150 countries, maintains it is a dating platform and is not designed to link commercial sex workers with paying customers.
Lots of young people – particularly those who post revealing images – get approached frequently by recruiters for webcam work, sex work, and exotic dancing on social media.
Chloe said: “Instagram is becoming the world’s pimp. When (recruiters) are offering £20,000 a month, any 16-year-old is going to have their head turned.
“It’s becoming part of this normalised system. Why break your back when you can strip for money?
“There is this romanticised view of it, like it is Secret Diary Of A Call Girl and you get handed cash by handsome businessmen.”
In one episode of the podcast, Chloe interviews a student called Grace (not her real name) who earns 1,000 euros a month from sex work.
The Northern Irish 18-year-old turned to sex work to support her family. She was struggling to balance part-time work and her education and a friend told her about sites like sugardaddy.com and helped her set up a profile.
She said: “My mum has a pretty good job but my dad has had a serious muscular problem since I was nine and his treatments can get pretty expensive.
“I’m able to help my parents. I imagine a lot of women are the same. It’s hard to turn your back (on sex work) and go back to a shitty job.”
But Grace admits concealing the truth about her income, particularly from her boyfriend, has taken a terrible toll.
She said: “I feel cut off inside as I’m lying all the time to everyone. There’s the worry of being found out, my parents don’t know anything about it. I’m terrified of my boyfriend finding out.
“There is this crippling fear that someone you love will find this out about you and that will totally change their opinion of you and potentially end your relationship.”
Many young people are in the same situation as Grace and seek out sex work because of financial problems.
Chloe said: “This is a generation that has so little access to legitimate jobs. Part-time jobs have virtually vanished as hospitality is suffering, but costs have risen. Rent has soared. It’s a perfect storm of economic problems.
“Many are driven by economic necessity, not paying for liposuction or Gucci shoes.”
Chloe says sex work should be discussed at school in a similar way to education about sexual health and pornography. That education should include clear information about the dangers and long-term consequences of online sexual images and sex work.
She added: “There is an attitude of ‘so what if I’m posting pictures of my boobs? I’m liberated and sexually free’.
“There is no discussion about how dangerous sex work can be. It’s not all picking up big bags of cash for sex. And what about in three years when you want to go to university or apply for a law firm – or your parents find out?”
“You do risky things when you’re a teenager but there are inevitable consequences – and the internet is forever. If you engage in sex work, teenagers need to be made aware that there can be consequences and some that might impact on the rest of their lives.”
How are sites monitored?
Justyn Hornor, VP of Product for Seeking Arrangement, says the company has extensive age checks and ID verification requirements when a profile is created.
It uses artificial intelligence and human vetting processes to identify underage users from their photos and user behaviour.
For example, if a user says they are 22 and but uses terms in their profile that suggest otherwise, it will be picked up by the AI or team member.
He admits that some underage users do get through the process, but are often caught when chat conversations are monitored.
He adds that Seeking Arrangement works with Freedom Light, a not-for-profit that combats sex trafficking.
“We put a tonne of measures in place and have extensive training from Freedom Light around the regulatory environment in the US and globally.
“When someone signs up we give them resources informing them about the risks.”
Seeking Arrangement maintains it is a dating platform, but Hornor admits the site is sometimes used for sex work.
He said: “It’s a reality on all dating platforms and social media. We are clear throughout the platform that it is not designed to find escorts or other commercial sex workers. It’s a relationship platform.”
He says crimes committed against sugar babies ‘do happen’ but are ‘very rare’.
One such incident took place in June 2019, when university student Mackenzie Lueck was murdered by tech worker Ayoola Ajayi in Salt Lake City in the US state of Utah. They’d met through Seeking
Arrangement. During the trial, it emerged that Mackenzie was on several similar sugar baby sites.
“We work very proactively with law enforcement. We have an entire team dedicated to providing material law enforcement might need,” Hornor added.
- You Don’t Know Me podcast is available to stream now on all podcast platforms