Dear Alice,

Three years ago, in my freshman year, I ran out of tuition money in the middle of the spring semester. There was no one to help. Financial aid told me I was maxed out on my loans, and I had no place to go. I did not want to drop out. I had traveled two thousand miles to go to school here. I could not go home. As a last resort, I started working as call girl and I have been working on the weekends doing that ever since. I really want to get out of the business — but if I do, I will have no way of paying for school. I have no family to speak of to look to for either financial or emotional support. I know it sounds like it's easy to get out, but it's not. I'm afraid of so many things. I'm out here all by myself. I have no friends here at school. The pressure from school is enough; if I had to worry about money too, I'd never make it.

I am double majoring, so I will be here next year as well, and then law school comes next. I'm beginning to think that I will never get out of the business. I can't see the end of the tunnel. I'm depressed. I can't have a relationship. I can't date. Help me — just give me direction.

— Jezebel

P.S.: I don't want to be perceived as some two-bit street hooker. I work for a respectable agency, and it is strictly in-call (not escort), and I am very safe and do not do any drugs or alcohol. I really am a nice person — I just got caught up in this work. I guess it came easy for me because of a very sexually and physically abusive childhood.

Dear Jezebel,

Juggling financial and emotional stress while studying can certainly be overwhelming, but your dedication to education and desire for direction will be assets as you navigate this process. Fortunately, you've already taken the first step by inquiring about your options. For those who are unfamiliar, sex work is a broad term used to describe the offering of sexual acts for money or payment. This incredibly broad industry includes both direct and indirect sex work, which includes at least 25 types and encompass a wide range of activities. As far as getting support for leaving the business, several organizations have programs that can help those looking to leave. In addition to these organizations, you might also work with resources on campus to explore other means of funding your academics. Read on for more information on sex work in general, as well as the institutional, financial, and emotional resources available to you.

Sex worker rights activists argue that this type of work is distinctly different from sex trafficking, and therefore is best not criminalized. In fact, they suggest that the criminalization and stigma often leads to misunderstanding of individuals in the industry and laws that limit workers’ control and power to protect themselves. That being said, many of the resources that are equipped to help people in these industries are focused on trafficking and sexual assault. Some people who work in sex work may also experience trafficking or sexual assault, and there are resources that have support for those with a wide range of experiences. As you're trying to leave the sex work industry, understanding the legal and political context of sex work can be helpful as you try to navigate these systems of support. Some of these resources include:

  • National Trafficking Hotline: This organization helps people that have been involved in trafficking get support and accessing support services in order to stay safe. They also have a referral directory to help people find services for people in their area.
    • Hotline phone number: 1-888-373-7888
  • GEMS (Girls Educational Mentoring Services): This organization helps people from the ages of 12 to 24 who have been sexually exploited. They have recommended service providers by state, as well as having their own support services for those who need them.
  • RAINN: This is an anti-sexual violence organization that has a number of resources for people that have experienced sexual violence, such as connecting with sexual assault service centers in your area, as well as safety planning information for the future.
    • National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673 (HOPE)

While leaving the industry might not resolve your financial and emotional concerns, you’re already starting to address them by exploring your options. Since you’re unable to take out more loans, have you considered speaking in person with someone from the career services or academic advising offices about finding other routes to pay for school? Perhaps you might be able to speak with them about your willingness to work to pay for school, how you might look for scholarships, as well as your need for financial and academic support. Another option to consider could be attending school part-time so you’re able to expand your employment opportunities. Keep in mind that there's more than one timeline for success in academics and giving yourself a longer timeline (i.e., taking more than four years to finish an undergraduate degree) may help you both meet your financial obligations and finish your degree. If you've exhausted these options or are looking for outside financial resources, there may still be other options worth exploring:  

  • Scholarships and grants (aid from the U.S. federal government, the state, and the school)
  • Outside awards (gift aid available from organizations outside the school)
  • Jobs (part-time employment through the Federal Work-Study program or independently)
  • Federal loans
  • Private loans

In addition to finding other sources of financial support, you might consider talking with someone about your mental well-being as you make this major life change. You could reach out to your school’s counseling center as another convenient and (oftentimes) free service students can take advantage of to help cope with emotions such as hopelessness and loneliness, grappling with childhood trauma, or dealing with other mental health related concerns. Unfortunately, rules around confidentiality for mental health professionals become fuzzy when it comes to disclosing involvement in sex work; there isn’t a consensus about whether mental health professionals are required to break confidentiality upon learning of involvement as sex work is legally a crime. It’s good to remember that it’s your decision as to what and how much you share with a provider — you can still engage in therapy to address your broader concerns without disclosing your work if you’d like to err on the side of caution.

This transition is undoubtedly a challenging one and it's only natural to feel worried as you begin the process of leaving the sex work business. You’ve already taken a big step forward by pursuing other options to fund school, so continuing to motivate yourself, while also taking care of your emotional health can make this a worthwhile journey in the end!

Sending strength,

Alice!

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