How to Make It as an Escort on the Yelp of Sex Work

Source: AP
Source: AP

On the Internet and in bedrooms around New England, Chanelle is the LeBron James of the Girlfriend Experience. Her kinky side is the stuff of legend on the Erotic Review, the Yelp-like review site of sex workers all over the world, where Chanelle has cultivated a sterling reputation as a "provider." 

Sex work has been kind to her. There are no pimps on the Internet. Chanelle sets her own appointments, picks her own clients and can be as selective as she wants, provided she can afford to be choosey. Given her rate and her client traffic, that's almost always. 

For an hour of her time, however it's spent, Chanelle charges $350, and the digits rise based on time or if her client wants her to spend the night. She's left her online profile vague. "I don't usually discuss sexual acts on the Internet for my own legality's sake," she told Mic over the phone. There are more personal ways to talk about the details of a date: "Usually I'll ask why they're interested in seeing me, or if there's anything I should bring."

What's the Girlfriend Experience? Basically, companionship and intimacy. "You're paying for an hour of my time," Chanelle explained. "For me, that means we can do whatever you want to do aside from any activity I don't want to do." With some exceptions: "I don't provide 'Greek,' which is anal. So it could be anything else from just talking to cuddling to a strap-on domination session to giving a massage or tying them up."

But her job, her universe, is dictated by the men who control the online forums. So instead of one person controlling her client base, she's tethered to the opinions of unseen critics. She has to consider her online reputation every time she schedules a meeting. In this digital landscape, sex workers don't necessarily have the upper hand. A bad review from a frustrated client can directly affect a provider's quality of life.

Like burgers at a diner, the women are rated on a scale from 1 to 10.

What is the Erotic Review? To date, the site has more than 1 million reviews that span the globe, saturated in metropolitan areas like Las Vegas and New York. It's by far the largest escort-review site, comfortably clearing 10,000 visitors and thousands of new reviews every day. The site features providers' stats, things like cup size, race, education and body hair. Like burgers at a diner, the women are rated on a scale from 1 to 10.

Hobbyists, the men who hire escorts, rate providers based on appearance, performance, attitude and atmosphere. The quick synopses of a client's visit are completely public. The VIP section, accessible through pay or if a client writes a review of a provider, has a subsection called "The Juicy Details" — which, as Chanelle put it, is just free erotica "so that all these other hobbyists can jack off to it."

Source: The Erotic Review

"If someone's trying to force you to do something you don't want to do, and you leave because you feel unsafe, then someone can just go on the Erotic Review and write you a horrible review," Chanelle said about the hobbyists. Chanelle claims the site is biased toward its male clientele, likely because the Erotic Review was started by a man who made headlines for extorting sex from women on his site. 

Source: Getty Images

Life before escorting: Years before she was Chanelle, years before she became a sex worker, she was a shy teen who studied music in the Midwest.

She went to college. She got into anarchist political organizing, played bass in bands and began studying herbal medicine. To make money and be her own boss, she started doing escort work four years ago, strictly using the Internet — not the street — to find and meet potential clients. 

She started with sites like Backpage.com, which was the digital version of the ads in the back of independent newspapers. Many people would send her long emails just to get her talking about meeting up, but they'd never follow through, she said. She turned to the site P411, which has stringent requirements for hobbyists; potential clients must divulge a social security number to get login permission. But even the most serious escort networks all linked back to one site. The Erotic Review, she discovered, was the ground zero of sex work.

Of Chanelle's 15 reviews on the Erotic Review, not one is negative. So the one time Chanelle received a less-favorable review, she was pissed — it wasn't for her work, it was for her looks.

"Someone gave me a 7 on my appearance instead of an 8 through 10 because I wasn't his type," she said, "But he knew that walking into the session." That's a problem with the system, she said. "These guys have total control over what they say and do, and even if you're on your game, they could not like one thing and give you a bad rating. And the Erotic Review is going to support that bad review. And then you're fucked."

"Since sex workers can't be public about what they do, it makes review boards really dangerous."

Technology isn't new to the sex industry, but with the advent of social media, its role has changed. "Sex workers have been using technology for a long time in ways to protect their safety," Sienna Baskin, managing director of the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center, told Mic. "It gives them a buffer between themselves and potential clients, so it's not in itself a negative thing."

But for some, the costs of retaining anonymity on the Internet outweigh the benefits. Sex workers can't defend themselves when a reviewer decides to post something libelous. One reason? It could lead to prison time. 

"Reviews have been used against sex workers in court to substantiate arrests," Baskin said. "It's very risky for sex workers to have their identities connected to their work online. It creates this one-sided platform that can also encourage abuse of the platform."

Dave Elms, the Erotic Review's infamous owner-turned-inmate, allegedly removed reviews of sex workers who wouldn't offer him free services to keep up their reputation on the site, sort of like a protection fee. In a Gawker report from 2008, a former escort said the police claiming to investigate her extorted her for sex, and that was the only way to keep her business running in a legal atmosphere without protection given to sex workers. 

"Decriminalization would remove the penalties for sex work, both for workers and clients," Baskin said. "It would increase safety by increasing transparency and openness. Since sex workers can't be public about what they do, it makes review boards really dangerous."

Source: Getty Images

The uncertain future: Having a tougher comment moderation system, or having the sites run by people besides reviewers themselves, could help the sex industry's problem. Sites like Project Purple, which sought to have sex workers, not their clients, control the activity, ultimately failed at turning the tables. But conversations for taking back the review standard persist.

Unfortunately, even if the standards don't change, Chanelle has to continue playing the game. "I wouldn't do this without the Internet," she said. "I think the Internet culture of sex work makes it so easy to get work and communicate with people and ensure your safety. If that hadn't been available to me, I wouldn't be as open to becoming what I am today."

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Max Plenke

Max Plenke is a staff writer at Mic, where he covers breaking news, climate science, health and the future. His work has appeared in Esquire, GQ and Wallpaper. Send story tips to max@mic.com.

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