I went undercover to find men who would give me free rent in return for sex
Adverts target students who can’t afford housing
Reports of Rent for Sex arrangements have risen in the Manchester area and adverts are increasingly targeted at university students. Women in particular are being offered free housing in return for sex for a male landlord.
However Manchester isn’t the only city to be affected and this growing national trend was recently the focus of investigative documentary on BBC Three. Ellie Undercover: Rent for Sex on BBC Three followed journalist Ellie Flynn as she investigated just how prevalent these arrangements are.
The Tab spoke to Ellie Flynn to understand the complexities of this trend.
What shocked you most about the situation?
I knew it happened in London and I thought it would happen in other cities but I was shocked to find out that it was even happening in towns all over the country. I got dozens of replies during my investigation.
It's easy to typecast and its easy to assume to these landlords would be lonely and older, but one guy was my age and another was younger than me so there was a huge variation in age.
Would you say it's a way for these guys to ensure regular, free sex?
I think in a lot of cases its about power, a lot of the landlords liked the fact that whoever they were getting couldn’t leave, they almost wanted someone that couldn’t say no.
They had an entitlement to sex and weren’t thinking about where they were getting it from and then in some cases it was people being genuinely lonely, but still having that sense of entitlement. They didn’t think about the person they having sex with.
Many rent-for-sex situations in your documentary were between a male landlord and a female tenant, was that the most common dynamic?
That was yes, but there were also male landlords looking for male tenants but because I was undercover I could only respond to the ones looking for women. I didn’t see any female landlords looking for male or female tenants however.
Why do you think its like that?
I’m not sure, I think it comes from a culture of misogyny, and these men feel more of an entitlement to sex than women do.
Was there any official response from the government or local authorities?
I was contacted by a police service about their local area, there wasn’t a national response but definitely a local one from police and local councillors wanting to crack down on this.
Were there any differences between cities, like Manchester and London?
As far as I was aware of it’s the same situation. I did see a lot of advertising in London looking for students and university areas in towns. I think students are more vulnerable, if they can’t get support from families or don’t want to ask them. I posed as a student in the investigation and said that I couldn’t ask help form my family and I didn’t receive enough loan.
Many of the landlords you spoke to weren’t aware that it's illegal
I think the law is very unclear even though it is technically illegal. It's hard to know if any prosecutions would go through, it’s a grey area, the landlords who I interviewed once knowing it was illegal said they wouldn’t do it.
They’re not thinking about the complexities of consent, they’re not explicitly forcing these tenants to have sex and not thinking that the tenant might feel obliged to go through with these situations because their other option is homelessness.
These landlords didn’t understand that was wrong and constitutes sexual assault and in my views it does, its not sexual consent. I think making it clearly illegal is necessary as its the only thing that would make landlords to stop and think.
Why do you think it's on the increase?
The housing market is in such a dire situation, it's a struggle to get affordable housing in places like London and Manchester. I know that there’s been an increase in homelessness in Manchester and a lack of affordable housing, so it has to be correlated.
I think in someways these things have had to have been happening in some manner for a while, sites like craigslist make it easy for people to pray on vulnerable people.