Increasing numbers of young women in France are turning to sex work to help pay the bills while they are at university, according to one of the country's leading students' unions.
According to the SUD-Etudiant union, 40,000 students in France - or nearly 2 per cent - fund their studies through the sex trade.
The union says jobs taken by female students include hostess work and freelancing for escort agencies - as well as pavement prostitution. Many, it says, use secure payment sites on the internet through which they offer webcam striptease.
"As a rule, student prostitution is an individual and occasional activity," said a spokeswoman for the Office Central de la Répression de la Traite des Etres Humains, an anti-slavery group. "It is discreet, difficult to track and not a crime in itself."
The students' union admits the phenomenon is hard to quantify. But when its members carried out a sample survey at Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse, they concluded that 545 out of 30,000 students had at some point worked in the sex industry.
The union quotes the case of "Julie", 35, who worked in the Belgian sex industry during seven successive summer vacations while studying to become a vet in France. She started as a window model in Brussels and moved on to erotic massage and escort work.
SUD-Etudiant - which campaigns for the French state to pay all students the minimum wage - said the sex trend was a result of falling subsidies and rising consumerism.
Guillaume Houzel, president of the Observatoire de la Vie Etudiante (OVE), which charts students' living conditions and income, said: "The phenomenon exists. More and more students are having trouble making ends meet because property prices are increasing while grants are staying the same." A major study of the French under-25 population in 2000 found that 100,000 students were living below the poverty threshold and 51 per cent had jobs in term time.
One vice squad officer said there was little the authorities could do to combat the trade and that some young women would always be attracted to the supposed glitter and glamour of the escort world. He added that most student prostitutes did not solicit through pimps but "through small ads, erotic photos and webcams - areas which are difficult to police and which generally are not linked to vice".
He said resources were focused on a bigger problem - that of gangs who use student visas to get women into the country and put them to work as prostitutes.
Police are sceptical about the figures quoted by the student union. They say there are many more prostitutes pretending to be French students than there are students selling sex in pursuit of their degrees.Reuse content