The Government has insisted that it was committed to tackling sexual exploitation in the wake of the revelations over a website offering to pay students’ university costs in return for sex.
The Minister for Women, Jo Swinson, has urged the police to investigate anyone suspected of taking advantage of students or forcing vulnerable women into prostitution.
In a written response to a question by the Labour MP and former minister Helen Goodman, Ms Swinson said she was aware of the SponsorAScholar.co.uk website, which has now been taken down following an undercover investigation by The Independent.
“We are committed to tackling the harm and exploitation that can be associated with prostitution. We want to see the police use the law, where appropriate, to tackle those who have taken advantage of those who are forced into prostitution,” she said.
The man responsible for the site, which offered students up to £15,000 a year in exchange for intimate encounters with wealthy businessmen or “sponsors”, was revealed this week to be Mark Lancaster, 39, a married IT consultant living in the Hampshire village of Horndean, who had clearance to work on a major overhaul of the British military computer network.
Mr Lancaster claimed to be an “assessor” during a meeting with an undercover Independent reporter posing as a student, asking her to demonstrate with him the level of intimacy she was prepared to give to possible “sponsors”. At least one woman has come forward claiming she had sex during a practical assessment but was later told she had failed the test and asked to re-apply.
There is mounting concern that rising student fees could be forcing people into sex work to cover their debt.
Ms Swinson defended the Government’s fees policy. “No eligible student has to pay for their tuition up-front. Loans are available to meet the full cost of tuition charges at publicly funded institutions,” she said.