Since the introduction of increased tuition fees in the UK and further austerity in Ireland, there has been a noticeable mark up in the amount of young people (overwhelmingly women) signing up to websites which advertise their ‘company’ (often sex) with older and wealthier men. The crisis in Ireland has placed many people under financial strain and as a result into doing work that under normal circumstances they would not do. This scheme of arranging companionship with the wealthy is one such example.
This scandalous devaluation of the human spirit and body comes with the commodity based society we’re living in. Everything is already for sale in the eye of a capitalist and countries have already taken the step to legalize sex work. Sex work however is less socially and culturally acceptable, it’s still generally stigmatized for a variety of different reasons. This scheme by name and approach makes the concept of a young person selling their ‘company’ to older, wealthier people friendlier and this is done solely and purely for PR.
Because regardless of how it is twisted or turned, the environment that drives young people into this scheme is one of financial hardship. Since the introduction of austerity measures, particularly the increases in tuition fees the numbers of people signing up as ‘sugar babies’ has disproportionately increased. It can be easily concluded that in the absence of meaningful work or support from the state, desperation has driven hundreds and thousands into advertising themselves for company.
I don’t rule out that there are people out there who signed up voluntarily to this scheme nor do I condemn them. Their personal desires are their own, but on the basis of the statistics going back to the election of the Conservative government in the UK and the Fine Gael-Labour government in Ireland the numbers speak for themselves. Her.ie article on this topic states that ‘Since 2008 there has been 358% increase in signs up all across the world’, essentially highlighting that the very first year of the international banking crisis heralded in extreme hardship for vulnerable people around the world.
I can’t help but feel a sort of helplessness when reading about this, the way it has been spun has made it generally culturally acceptable despite it being revolting and a method of forcing young people into prostitution. This isn’t a question of ‘doing whatever you want’ or ‘following your dreams’, these are liberal notions which dilute the very real crisis young people are in.
In the face of increasing fees and continued and prolonged absence of meaningful employment the options we have are continuously cut down to the point where options such as prostitution are considered and taken up. It’s worth noting that as fees increase education becomes more and more inaccessible leaving options for young people more limited and limited.
As further austerity measures are introduced alongside the anti-student loan system we’ll see a clearer divide among young people. Those with the means will attend University and go on to well paid jobs while most of us will see either ourselves or our children locked out of third level education. Students and young people must mobilize to defend themselves and apply enough pressure to see tuition fees of all forms rolled back. But the continuing declining environment for young people won’t be simply beaten through defensive campaigns, we must also see to it that zero hour contracts are rid of alongside discriminatory wages on the basis of wage.
These sugar babies mark the beginning of a rapid and scary decline for our generation. If we’re going to do nothing, it’s just going to get worse.