A 20-year-old Sydney student has become the first Australian woman to join a controversial "virgin auction" website notorious for selling the virginity of at least five young women to wealthy businessmen in recent years.
Cinderella Escorts, a German-based website which describes itself as "the world's most famous escort agency", said the woman — identified only as "Kiara" — was the first Australian to be accepted out of around 150 applications.
That has prompted a warning from one former sex worker and anti-prostitution campaigner, who said financial hardship and lack of community support were pushing a growing number of young women into dangerous situations.
"Her virginity has been checked by a doctor and Cinderella Escorts has a medical certificate as proof of this," the website listing says. "The minimum bid for Kiara's virginity is currently 100,000 euros [$170,850]. This can change daily."
In an email interview, Cinderella Escorts founder Jan Zakobielski, who runs the site from an apartment in Dortmund, claimed two "Australian politicians", a businessman and a "famous Australian singer" had expressed interest in placing bids on previous auctions.
"But there are many other countries where we get a lot more requests," he said. The 27-year-old provided no evidence to support the claims. He has previously claimed the site had a membership of "verified millionaires and billionaires", including celebrities.
In the same email interview, Kiara said selling her virginity would "afford me a lot of opportunities that I wouldn't otherwise get" and that she didn't think she would "find a boy to appreciate me enough".
"I want to reach a level of security and balance in my life," she said. "Be able to travel around the world and fund my studies. Supporting my family is also one of my reasons. Further the money would allow me to buy my own apartment. This is definitely one of the most important reasons."
The woman, who recently moved from Perth to Sydney to study, said it was not a difficult decision because she felt it was "a form of emancipation".
"It allows me to become independent and support myself," she said.
"The first time is only something special because society teaches us that it is. If we grew up without any influence from others it maybe would be nothing special and therefore not taboo."
Asked whether she had told her parents, she said even asking the question "puts me in a place where I am a child who still needs the protection of her parents".
"There is a good reason why politicians decided that someone is adult after he or she is 18," she said.
"I know myself, what is good for me and what is not. But yes, they know about it and say it is may be better to get a lot of money out of it rather than giving it for free to a guy who probably will leave me after anyway. Actually I think most people would take a million instead of experience their first time with the same guy again."
She said she buyer "should be a gentleman and well looked after".
Genevieve Gilbert, founder of the anti-prostitution charity the Pink Cross Foundation, said the trend showed women were "disadvantaged in our society". "There are huge pay gaps in all sectors and we often see students in precarious financial situations," she said.
"Either because they're far away from their family or don't have a family that can provide support. If there were more grants or funding channels specifically towards women, we wouldn't see a rise in these sorts of niche places where students specifically can offer their bodies for the pleasure of older, wealthy individuals."
Ms Gilbert said her message to women who might be tempted was to seek out the support of a social worker or older community member. "Get a case worker to help you achieve your short-term goals," she said.
"The problem with women that go into prostitution is they're very isolated. There's so much stigma, but the men involved get away with it. Every day in Australia there are literally thousands of men who buy sex. It's a national issue."
She said it was the responsibility of men to take a stand. "It's not just a women's issue, it's a community issue and everyone has to take a stand to support women so they don't resort to prostitution," she said.
"The men are the ones that need to take action. It's critical to change the culture, but it doesn't happen overnight. We see prostitution as violence against women. It's about men standing up against that, to stop using women to achieve their enjoyment."
Mr Zakobielski rejected suggestions the website was exploitative, saying applicants must first see a psychologist to make sure they were fully aware of the implications and "legally sane". "Someone makes the decision to sell her virginity," he said.
"It's not me making this decision. An adult woman contacts us after she has already decided about her plans. We just give the woman a platform to live their will and be free to do with their body whatever they want."
He added the site was "strictly against people who want to decide for a girl what she is allowed to do with her body". "It's her body, it's her choice," he said.
Mr Zakobielski, who takes a 20 per cent cut of the final bid, said "of course we get a small percentage for our job" just like every other company in the world is paid for their work.
"But imagine if there was no platform like ours which works professionally and under high public [scrutiny]," he said.
"Girls would search for it themselves on the internet. This was the reason we started it — we met girls who were searching on the internet for someone to buy their virginity. But to search alone is dangerous.
"They can meet a crazy guy, not get paid afterwards or even get the attention of a criminal organisation selling virgins on black market. I think the best solution is to break with taboos. It's safer for the girls to be official and in good hands.
"It doesn't matter if we're talking about escorts or virgins, prohibition doesn't stop people doing it — it just puts them into a dangerous black market."
Earlier this week, a 26-year-old UK woman claimed to have sold her virginity to a "Hollywood actor" for $1.93 million, while last year a 19-year-old model from the US claimed to have sold her virginity to an Abu Dhabi-based businessman for nearly $3.9 million.