Editor’s note: the subject will be referred to as Katarina* within this piece for anonymity reasons.
As the academic year gets into full swing, Abi Hunt meets with a NTU student putting her mental health at risk by using sex work to fund her university fees and living costs.
When the front door opened I was surprised to see a normal looking but clearly anxiety-ridden young woman, wearing black gym leggings and a grey loose jumper. A stark contrast to my pre-conceived idea of a heavily made-up and self-assured lady.
Katarina is a 23-year-old student who has been in the ‘sugar dating’ game for over three years.
She has had over 20 ‘sugar daddies’, who are widely defined as “rich older men who lavish gifts on young women in return for their company or sexual favours.”
She made the decision to start ‘sugar dating’ after seeing a girl on YouTube talk about ‘Seeking Arrangement’, a popular dating website where sugar babies “enjoy a life of luxury by being pampered with fine dinners, exotic trips and allowances” in return for their ‘services’.
Katarina said: “It would be really naive to say you can find a sugar daddy that will give you money in exchange for a friendship or just company – that’s a misconception. You know you have to be ready to be intimate with these men, whether he’s in his early 30s or 60 plus.”
And Katarina isn’t the only student using ‘Seeking Arrangement’.
As findings from the Save the Student’s national student money survey suggest, 3% of UK students finance their studies with adult work whilst one in 10 students use their bodies to raise funds in an emergency.
She added: “It was always difficult to make ends meet and it was an everyday struggle on top of uni work, family problems – all these things I have to think about. Money was a factor that was triggering my mental health and making it worse.”
The higher education sector is facing huge challenges with mental health, as suicides at Bristol University have made national headlines.
Hugh Brady, Bristol’s vice-chancellor told the Guardian: “When you have three deaths in such a quick succession – at any time of year, but especially just coming up to exams – it’s a worrying time for the institution.
He said: “Mental health is our priority and it’s the priority of the sector. This is the challenge of our time.”
Katarina described being overwhelmed when inundated with messages from random men wanting long term arrangements: “Straight away it hit me, it was very real, like men started messaging me talking about the details of arrangements and it seemed like there was so much to learn.”
The most beneficial relationship she had was with a daddy aged over 60 that she describes as a “real daddy”, who had an acquired sexual taste: “He was giving me a £4000 allowance each month and it was a long-term arrangement. He had a real kink for me wiping him after he used the toilet, but obviously the money was worth it.”
A Mind charity report also highlights importance of mental health, suggesting money is a major factor in it.
Findings described the link as “clear” and that “being in debt can negatively affect a person’s mental health” – something which Katarina has experienced due to her socio-economic background and subsequent lack of money to cover all expenses.
However, she added you also get “assault daddies”, who she describes as the men who cannot afford a lavish lifestyle but still try to use young women.
Katarina says: “This one time, a guy asked me if I could meet with him in his car to show him my genitals for £100. It’s ridiculous.”
The unsettling name “assault daddy” used so freely by Katarina raised questions of if she was so painfully naive, or so desperate for money that she would wilfully disregard potential daddy dangers. Either way, it was cause for concern not only for her physical health but her mental well-being.
She justified: “I know that some people would never consider this whatsoever and have their standards, but with my position and my struggles at the moment – I wouldn’t think twice.”
A spokesperson from Nottingham Trent University stated the support they offer, however, did not comment on the issue itself: “We are not aware of this matter and do not comment on individual student behaviour. We offer comprehensive support services for all students, including those facing financial difficulties and mental health issues.
“If any of our students is in need of support we would encourage them to come forward and contact us.”
She says the arrangements are “mutually beneficial” but described the power these men have over her: “You need to be available, like if someone is paying you a very high monthly allowance, you can’t decide to just ignore their message because you’re having a ‘bad day’ – you have to be on your best game every single time and be ready to go out and be their arm candy.
“You really need to be strong mentally and if you’re not – it can be detrimental to your mental health.”
As my time with her came to an end, I left with the overwhelming feeling that only she and I had direct insight to her secret world and had concern over whether she would continue her masquerade at the expense of her mental health.